Race Breakdown: This past weekend of racing treated cycling fans to some of the most exciting early-season stage racing in modern memory. The dueling week-long stage races, Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice, didn’t allow for a dull moment. Primoz Roglic looked stronger than ever at Paris-Nice until he lost overall on the final stage in fantastic fashion due to a series of crashes. Across the Alps in Italy, Tadej Pogacar dropped race-leader Wout van Aert to take the overall lead at Tirreno-Adriatico on Saturday’s stage 4, then extended his GC lead on Sunday’s stage 5 Aert while nearly chasing down a dazzling Mathieu van der Poel 50km-long solo breakaway.
The 2021 season is in full swing
Paris-Nice Stages 7 & 8
● Outside of the final day crashes, Roglic is proving to be even better than he was in 2020 and for the second-consecutive days, launches an absurdly-long sprint to win the stage and collect even more precious bonus seconds. His ability to sprint for such extended periods at the end of stages is his trump card. It puts the onus on everyone else in the race since he simply has to sit in the front group, and then attack/sprint with 30-seconds remaining in the race, and nobody can stay with him.
● For example, Roglic extended his lead out to 52-seconds on Schachmann after Stage 7 from only 16-seconds following the Stage 3 TT, despite only putting 14-seconds into Schachmann on the road.
Schachmann’s second Paris-Nice win, but…
● Max Schachmann’s unlikely overall win means he wins Paris-Nice for the second year in a row. This is a huge win for both him and his Bora team. Paris-Nice has a history of coming down to the final stage and Schachmann kept his head on a swivel and took the race all the way to the finish line knowing that anything could happen.
● It is incredibly impressive that Roglic was able to stay in the race lead for as long as he did on Stage 8 despite riding with a dislocated shoulder.
● There will certainly be some hard feelings from the Jumbo camp with how Bora accelerated to drop Roglic after his second crash with 25km-remaining on the final stage, but the hard feelings didn’t appear to extend to Roglic and Schachmann, as Roglic congratulated Schachmann right after finishing the race.
No hard feelings?
● This is a devastating way for Roglic to lose Paris-Nice. Making matters worse is that this feeling won’t be unfamiliar for him. He lost the 2020 Tour de France on the last day of racing, dropped out of the 2020 Dauphine on the final day of racing due to a crash, and crashed on the final day of the 2018 Tour of the Basque Country (even though he was able to go on to win that race). It is possible that his relatively late arrival to the sport of cycling makes him more susceptible to crashing since his handling skills aren’t quite as developed.
● His Jumbo-Visma team was lacking in strength all week. They were passable on Stage 7, but unlike Roglic, they are a shadow of their 2020 selves, when they were hands-down the strongest team in the world. It is clear they are missing Tom Dumoulin, who provided a valuable bridge and was able to stay with Roglic until he launched his final sprint.
Not the first time Roglič has lost a stage race
● For example, in his current form, Kruijswijk is a domestique and any talk of him being a second leader is purely ceremonial. If anything, this week has shown us Wout van Aert would be the more logical choice as their second leader.
● They also clearly struggle to deal with dynamic on-the-road situations. Their struggles to find and help Roglic after his second crash on Stage 8 mirrors the issues they had on Stage 13 of the 2019 Giro d’Italia with Roglic crashed and was isolated from his team.
● Bora and Astana might have been driving the pace aggressively after Roglic’s second crash on Stage 8, but in my mind, this loss is all on Jumbo. They didn’t have the strength to properly support Roglic all week, but he was strong enough to make up for him, but when he finally needed team support, they completely dropped the ball and weren’t present to close the critical gap.
Astana and BORA didn’t hang around
For Further Consideration
● The fact that there was so much controversy and debate surrounding Roglic’s decision to go for the win on Stage 7 shows that there is still a fundamental misunderstanding in both the media as well as among some teams and riders around the power and importance of time bonuses. This is shocking since we are coming off a year when all three grand tours were decided by less than a minute.
● With this in mind, it is bizarre that rival teams keep falling into the trap of pulling the breakaway back for Jumbo so Roglic can gobble up these bonuses. His team wasn’t strong enough on stage 7 to pull the early breakaway back and he was only able to extend his lead courtesy of his rivals’ teams.
Pogačar impressive in Tirreno
Stage 4 & 5 Takeaways:
● A truly incredible victory by Mathieu Van der Poel and the second time in as many weeks that he has launched a long-range attack.
No celebration for Mathieu
● One could quibble with his decision to attack from so far out, but with the cold weather and a difficult finish that suits a strong Pogacar, it ended up serving him well because he was able to stay warmer than the chasers and was able to build up a big buffer before the difficult final few kilometers, which Pogacar rode much, much faster. It is debatable if Van der Poel could have stayed with Pogacar on the final pitch if he would have sat in the group.
● Pogacar’s tactics and physical strength on both stage 4 and 5 were incredibly impressive. Despite his team being almost completely absent on stage 4 he was able to fend off attacks until he wanted to launch an offensive. The lack of a team meant he probably had to go from further out than what is ideal, but he was strong enough to make it work.
● Wout van Aert is incredible. He won the opening stage bunch sprint against Caleb Ewan and then went on to drop two Tour de France winners with his pace-setting on the final climb on stage 4. He also recovered incredibly well after being dropped by Pogacar with 17km-to-go on stage 5 and limited his losses to 39-seconds.
Stage 5 was tough
● The time gap modulations on stage 5 were some of the most absurd I’ve seen in the modern era. Van der Poel built up close to a four-minute lead in 30kms, only to have Pogacar pull back 3’30 in the final 17kms. Some of this has to do with the cold and rainy conditions on the day, but I have to believe some of it is simply due to the extreme talent and confidence of riders like Pogacar and Van der Poel to trust that they can either hold off chasers and/or pull back a massive deficit.
● Also, the time gaps in the overall classification are absurdly large for a week-long stage race. This speaks to the brutal, always-on racing that the peloton has faced seemingly every stage.
Dark clouds for some
● It is shocking to watch Ineos turn into Movistar. They had six riders with 10km-to-go on Saturday’s stage 4 and failed to get a single rider in the final front group. On Sunday’s stage 5 one of their co-leaders, Egan Bernal, lost over two minutes to Pogacar while their other protected rider, Geraint Thomas, lost over 13-minutes.
Where was Ineos?
● This is the flip-side of their new attacking style. In the past, they have simply sat back and made fools of teams trying to claw back time and disrupt their pace-setting. Now that the tables have turned, they are seeing firsthand how difficult it is to win while attacking.
● They are also seeing the problem with the strategy of racing with multiple leaders. If they had consolidated behind either Thomas or Bernal before stage 4, Bernal wouldn’t have dislodged Thomas with his attack only to then have to sit up and wait for Thomas to pace him to the finish line to limit his losses.
Bernal – The strongest
● Bernal, who is emerging as their hands-down strongest rider, isn’t even on the team’s long-list to even start the race (he will be targeting the Giro instead).
● The worst sign for the future is that they simply didn’t have the strength to execute their strategies. This is concerning as it likely won’t change during the year. We are in an era where riders’ form doesn’t modulate widely throughout the year as it did in years past and if Thomas and Bernal can’t hang with Pogacar now, it is hard to imagine how they will in July.
● Wout van Aert, the darling of attacking riding in 2020, is seeing the unglamorous side of the GC rider lifestyle. While his cyclocross rival Van der Poel can sit up and rest on mountain stages and then choose to attack the next day, Van Aert is fighting tooth and nail for every second on every stage.
Van der Poel went deep on Sunday
What Does All of This Mean for Milan-Sanremo?
Mathieu Van der Poel has impressed in the last few weeks, appears to be the best rider in the world by a long shot and as such, has to be considered the favorite to win a race that is almost perfectly suited for his talents. But, remember, nothing is guaranteed at Milano-Sanremo. The most patient, not the strongest rider, usually wins, and it is hard to imagine Van der Poel, whose Spring will be defined by his performances at next weekend’s Milano-Sanremo, the Tour of Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix, lining up to play the waiting game. I would keep an eye on last year’s winner, Wout van Aert, to win if it comes down to a larger sprint, or Tadej Pogacar to attack over the Poggio and attempt a solo win a la Vincenzo Nibali in 2018.
MvdP – Always impressive
# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #