BREAKDOWN: Ten Takeaways From Bessèges & Valencia

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Now that first short stage races are done and dusted, very dusty in the case of Valencia stage 3, Spencer Martin runs his eye over the action in Spain and Bessèges in France to give us the ‘Ten Takeaways’ for the season to come.

– This article is an excerpt from the Beyond the Peloton newsletter. Sign up here for full access. –

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A storming ride from Benjamin Thomas in the Bessèges TT to hold the overall lead

The first European stage races of the 2022 pro cycling season wrapped up this past weekend, with BORA-hansgrohe’s Aleksandr Vlasov taking the overall title at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana ahead of Quick-Step’s Remco Evenepoel and Ineos’ Carlos Rodriguez, while across the Pyrenees, Cofidis’ Benjamin Thomas took overall top honors at Étoile de Bessèges ahead of EF’s Alberto Bettiol and Uno-X’s young breakout star Tobias Halland Johannessen.

While it can be incredibly difficult to parse the outcomes of these early-season races for useful information, the following takeaways from the past weekend could give us clues about how the more important races looming later this season will play out.

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Vlasov was victorious on the gravel

Ten Takeaways:
1)
Aleksandr Vlasov gets his biggest, and first, stage racing win of his professional career.

  • The 25-year-old Russian showed flashes of brilliance at Astana but always seemed to struggle under the weight of leadership.
  • But, his performances to limit his losses to Remco Evenepoel on stage 1 and then to strike back over the gravel on stage 3 were immensely impressive and show that he has found new life at BORA-hansgrohe.
  • Don’t start penciling him in as a grand tour favorite just yet, but with this win, he has proven he can beat some of the world’s best over one-week stage races, and if he can keep building on this consistency, could have a legitimate shot at winning the overall of a grand tour at some point in the coming seasons.

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Remco Evenepoel lost Valencia yellow on the gravel

2) Remco Evenepoel’s contrasting rides on stages 1 and 3 at Valencia mean we still aren’t sure exactly what he is capable of.

  • His dominant ride on stage 1 followed a familiar template of surging clear for a solo victory at a non-WorldTour race, but his subsequent collapse on stage three sent mixed messages about his current form and more importantly, future as a racer. Despite being in his 4th professional season and having 23 pro wins, we still don’t have a clear picture of what Evenepoel is capable of.
  • However, the coming hilly Spring one-day races should give us more clarity concerning his ability to transfer potential into results.

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Bessèges stage 3 win for Thomas

3) Benjamin Thomas’ overall win at Etoile de Bessèges is both a major, career-defining win for Thomas and a moral (and logistical) win for his Cofidis team.

  • Thomas, who got his first career stage racing victory, proved that he has both the physical and tactical skills to compete and win against the most talented riders in the world in both road racing and time trial stages.
  • Cofidis, who came into the season after a decade of disappointment and on the outside looking concerning relegation from the WorldTour, has already racked up a quarter of their win total from the entire 2021 season and has burst out of the gate with a purpose and focus we haven’t seen from their riders in years.

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The revelation of Bessèges – Tobias Halland Johannessen

4) Tobias Halland Johannessen, the 22-year-old Norwegian on Uno-X gets a massive third place overall at Etoile behind Thomas and Alberto Bettiol (who has also looked great so far this season).

  • His consistent overall ride, along with his summit finish stage win on stage 4, shows that he has a world-class engine and that his Uno-X team is the best unofficial development team in the world.
  • The amount of grassroots talent coming out of that team and the country of Norway in general right now is incredibly impressive. Combined with the rise of the Danes, Scandinavia is rising as a new power player in pro cycling.

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5) While Uno-X, Cofidis and Bora are off to great stars, the Ineos superteam has had a decidedly mixed bag so far.

  • While Filippo Ganna continued his TT dominance on the way to his stage five win on Sunday at Étoile, Richard Carapaz, their star GC rider for 2022, looked off-the-pace every stage and even went down in a crash on stage 3.
  • Egan Bernal’s recent training crash means that the grand tour GC weight of the team is now almost solely on Carapaz’s shoulders, which means this underwhelming performance is somewhat concerning.
  • On the plus side, 21-year-old Spanish talent Carlos Rodriguez put in a good ride to finish in third place overall at Valencia, placing him ahead of the Movistar duo Alejandro Valverde and Enric Mas.

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4th and 5th in Valencia for Movistar with Enric Mas and Alejandro Valverde

6) Speaking of Movistar, they suffered an underwhelming season-opener at Valencia.

  • Outside of their two GC stars both being beaten by a 21-year-old Rodriguez, they appeared to lack any ‘pop’ and failed to even challenge for a single-stage win at an event they have performed extremely well at in the past.
  • Valverde continues to race at a high level, especially for his age of 41-years-old, but we have another data point that tells us Enric Mas isn’t their leader of the future, and the team doesn’t appear to have a viable plan B in the works.

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Jakobsen was ‘nearly’ unbeatable in Valencia

7) Quick-Step – Alpha Vinyl is off to a great start, winning three out of the five stages at Valencia, but wasn’t without hiccups.

  • They appeared disjointed and out-of-sync at times during the race, particularly on the final climb of stage 3 when Evenepoel lost his lead and was without teammates in a critical moment, and at the end of stage 4, when Evenepoel surged to the front to lead-out Fabio Jakobson, but lost his Quick-Step teammates and performed a perfect lead-out for Trek’s Matteo Moschetti instead.
  • Don’t hit the panic button yet, but considering their risky off-season strategy of shedding major stars and doubling down on young, unproven talent, this is something to keep an eye on.

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Mads Pedersen was strong in Bessèges

8) Mads Pedersen, the 2019 World Road Race Champion, is off to an amazing start to the season and is clearly looking to join the top-tier of one-day racers. The 26-year-old might be a former World Champion, but he needs to step up his consistency at major events if he wants to be a serious Monument contender and step into the tier currently reserved for stars like Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert. Currently, due to the presence of Monument winner Jasper Stuyven, it is even debatable if he is the best one-day racer on his Trek team.

  • But, Pedersen is clearly out to change the current classics pecking order in 2022. In his first six races of the season, he has already netted a win and three runner-ups. These out-of-the-gate results show he has taken this fact to heart and is coming into 2022 with an extremely high level of fitness.
  • At this rate, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Pedersen claim his first Monument on the Via Roma at Milano-Sanremo in a little over a month’s time.

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Is Groenewegen back?

9) The 2022 season is shaping up to be a historically great year for sprinting.

  • Dylan Groenewegen, Caleb Ewan, and Fabio Jakobsen all won over the past week, and all three appear to be back at their best after suffering from injury and/or consistency difficulties over the past two seasons.
  • It will be fascinating to watch these established stars battle the sprint upstarts like Jasper Philipsen and Tim Merlier, along with the hybrid breed like Wout van Aert and Mads Pedersen throughout the season.

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BikeExchange, Jumbo-Visma and DSM had to go home

10) Despite the great racing, the biggest story of the past week of racing could be the COVID incidents that forced Jumbo-Visma, BikeExchange, and DSM to abandon the Volta Valencia event.

  • While on their own, these incidents won’t have much effect on the season, it is potentially the beginning of a troublesome trend.
  • If infections and positive tests continue to occur mid-race throughout the season, we could see the mid-race exits of major stars at the sport’s biggest races.
  • This trend sets up the possibility of a mid-Tour de France withdrawal of a major overall contender(s), which would throw the event into a level of chaos not seen since the ‘bad old days’ of mid-race doping expulsions.

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It was all a bit much for Alberto Bettiol


# 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. #

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