We are now well in to the Pro Road Season, with the Giro d’Italia underway and approaching the end of Week 1 at time of typing. So it’s the perfect moment to reflect on the early part of the World Tour calendar and some of the interesting results January to April have given.
2016 began with the now traditional Tour Down Under where European riders typically try to build form, while their Antipodean colleagues are already in high gear. This dynamic is borne out in the results – 6 stages and six home wins, plus the GC for Simon Gerrans (the fourth time he has won). Move along, nothing to see here.
The next two races on the World Tour were Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico. Both form a key pointer to early season form in the run up to Grand Tours and are often won by GC hitters. Not this year. One day specialist Greg Vanavermaet claimed the Tirreno, while all-rounder Geraint Thomas picked up the French ‘race to the sun’. Admittedly both races lost a tough day in the mountains due to snow, but these names stand out on the respective rolls of honour, especially in the case of GVA.
We return to Italy for the first major one-day classic of the year: Milan-Sanremo. The sprinters dream of this race, as do the rouleurs and puncheurs. This year it was a French sprinter named Arnaud Demare, who picked up the win. Possibly the high point on his palmares. Demare is a known force and capable sprinter, with plenty of wins to his name, but I don’t think he was anyones hot favourite to win.
The races are coming think and fast now at World Tour and Pro Continental level, with the next biggie being the Volta a Catalunya. Over the last few years this short stage race has been won by one day racers/all rounders like Dan Martin and Joaquim Rodriguez. This year the diminutive Columbian Nairo Quintana took the win, giving a strong early indication of form ahead of the Tour. But it’s not all about the stage races.
The Northern one day classics dominate most of March and April and are a joy to watch. And Michal Kwiatkołski took a fine win at the E3 Harelbeke, against some more fancied riders. In fact he pipped Peter Sagan for the win, who himself went on to win the next two World Tour events – Gent-Wevelegem and Ronde van Vlaanderen. Sagan’s two wins here are arguably the first favourite or anticipated wins since that of Gerrans, way back in January. But the unpredictable nature of this season is highlighted once more with a stunning win for Matthew ‘journeyman’ Hayman in Paris-Roubaix taking the win in a 5 man sprint, any of whom were more fancied to win than Hayman.
In between times, GC hitter Albert Contador took the Tour of the Basque County, getting things back to the realm of the predictable. But not for long, with the Ardennes Classics series of races giving us a couple of unexpected winners.
The Amstel Gold Race was snaffled away from the favourites by Enrico Gasparotto, admittedly a former winner but definitely not an expected one this season. Wout Poels took the win at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, giving Sky their first ever monument. But certainly from an unlikely source. Wins by Alejandro Valverde and Quintana respectively in Fleche Wallone and Tour de Romandie were a return to the form book.
So there you are.
In my opinion a lot of unexpected winners in the World Tour this season, but what does it all mean?
No doubt we will see some more curve balls in the one day races left this season. But if Quintana maintains his early season form, he could be the one to watch in France.
But let’s enjoy the unpredictable aspect of World Tour cycling as we ride through the rest of the season.