As the road season and the weather heats up, Spencer Martin gives us his ‘Race Breakdown’ on the weekend action from the Tour de Provence and the Tour of Oman. ‘Ten Takeaways’ to the present rider form and what that means for the future.
A strong final podium in Provence
While watching the Tour de la Provence this past weekend, it would have been easy to be confused about the year since Nairo Quintana appeared to wind back the clock by storming to the overall win over World Champion Julian Alaphilippe at the Tour de la Provence, Meanwhile, Mark Cavendish, the ageless wonder, looked ten years younger than his stated age when he stormed from behind to win stage two of the Tour of Oman and build a case for his involvement at the 2022 Tour de France.
Quintana – Not back yet?
To help understand and contextualize these performances, below are the key takeaways from the past weekend of racing:
1) Nairo Quintana looked great at the Tour de la Provence, but don’t count him fully back just yet.
- The controlled manner in which Quintana did just well enough in the opening prologue, navigated the stage 1 crosswinds with ease, before methodically launching an attack on the final climb of the final stage that netted him just enough time to win the overall was incredibly impressive.
- However, this doesn’t mean we should start penciling him in for a contender spot at the Tour de France. Coming out storming in February, only to fade later in the year is a trend for Quintana in recent years.
Alaphilippe – World champion racing into form
2) Julian Alaphilippe gets second place overall behind Quintana and proves yet again that while he is one of the most exciting one-day and stage hunting riders in the world. But, at the same time, he made it clearer now than ever that he is not a viable GC contender.
- Nowhere was this more clear than when Quintana attacked with 4.3km-to-go on the final climb and Alaphilippe inexplicably jumped on his wheel, instead of simply staying with the group, which included a teammate.
- The split-second decision to go anaerobic on a summit finish instead of staying put to be paced to the overall win by a teammate highlighted why Alaphilippe isn’t cut out for the GC game, which frankly is good news for those who enjoy watching the Frenchman’s attacking style.
Ganna could transition into a truly dominant rider over multiple disciplines
3) Filippo Ganna might have been disqualified on the final stage of Provence for an illegal bike change, but his performance throughout the race proves that he might just be one of the most talented riders in the sport.
- He won the opening prologue by blowing every other rider out of the water, blew up the peloton in the crosswinds on stage 1, finished 3rd in a bunch sprint on stage 2, and held on impressively before being dropped on the final climb of stage 3.
- While he gets typecast as a hulking time trial specialist, Ganna is proving that he is far more than that and could transition into a truly dominant rider over multiple disciplines in the years to come.
- Unfortunately, this transformation could be difficult in execution since his Ineos team seems to prefer to use him as a windbreaker on the front rather than a protected rider.
Dodgy bike change for Filippo Ganna
4) Regarding the disqualification, it is baffling that a team as dialed-in as Ineos could make such a blatant mistake. It is common knowledge in the sport that a rider needs to take a bike change from the team car and that roadside bike changes are incredibly prohibited, yet Ineos still executed a pre-planned change from the side of the road.
- They allegedly performed the bike change to give Ganna a lighter rim-brake bike before the final climb, but a data-focused team should know that a few extra grams won’t make a meaningful difference on a fairly shallow climb that is likely to be ridden almost entirely in a large group, and any gains certainly are nullified if they require performing a high-risk illegal bike change.
- Either this was the result of a complete internal meltdown, or they actually make a habit of it and simply don’t often get caught.
GB TT champ Ethan Hayter could have been Ineos’ best bet for the overall
5) In addition to the bike-change fiasco, more questions remain for Ineos after this past up-and-down week.
- They won two stages but failed to place a single rider within five minutes of Quintana on the final stage or a ride inside the top 30 on GC.
- Considering they left the prologue with the top two spots in GC in such a short stage race, this has to be a disappointment.
- Instead of consolidating behind their top two riders at the race, Ganna and Ethan Hayter, they used race-leader Ganna to blow up the race in the crosswinds on stage 1, which ejected their best option for the GC, Hayter, out of contention.
- Considering this, it has to be asked (and I’m sure it is internally) if this was the correct strategy. After all, it wouldn’t be difficult to argue that the team actually arguably minimized its potential success at the race with these tactics.
Richard Carapaz – Sick, bad form or both?
6) Also, Richard Carapaz, who is supposed to lead the team at the Giro d’Italia, hasn’t looked particularly fit all season long and was forced to leave the race after a positive COVID test.
- The team is claiming he is asymptomatic, but this is either a fib, or Carapaz is simply lacking fitness, since he has gone backyards at nearly every time the pace has been lifted this season and looked particularly bad when he was dropped by his own team heading into the finish on stage 1 on Friday at Provence.
- Whatever the reason for his struggles, he likely won’t be able to contend for overall victory at the Giro at this rate and would be much better served by changing his primary goal to the Tour de France, which would buy him vital time to get fully fit and healthy.
Matteo Jorgensen was close to the podium
7) The fight for the final podium spot at Provence highlighted two often overlooked, but extremely talented young riders.
- Trek’s 21-year-old Mattias Skjelmose Jensen put in an amazing ride to take 3rd place overall, while Movistar’s 22-year-old Matteo Jorgenson matched him pedal stroke for pedal stroke to the line only to finish two seconds off the podium.
- These low-key, but highly impressive, performances highlight how the sport is in the midst of a surge of youth talent that exceeds the big-name talents like Tadej Pogačar and Remco Evenepoel.
What next for Ivan Sosa?
8) While Movistar had a great race with Jorgensen, their Ivan Sosa GC reclamation effort is already hitting speed bumps.
- The 24-year-old Colombia was a highly touted talent when he went to Ineos in 2019, but struggled at the British team and was never able to put everything together as a rider.
- After coming over to Movistar in the off-season, some thought he might be able to find new life as a GC talent, but after finishing over 13-minutes back in the 4-stage Tour de la Provence, a turnaround appears unlikely.
Mark Cavendish winning early in 2022
9) Mark Cavendish is creating a Tour de France sprinter controversy on his QuickStep team with his impressive performances at the Tour of Oman.
- The 36-year-old has struggled with the quality of his Quick-Step lead-out at times, but despite this, has been by far the fastest rider in both of the race’s bunch sprints (even though he only won one so far).
- After his impressive 2021 season, he appears to be back and at an even higher level in 2022. If he can keep this up, he will continue to put immense pressure on Quick-Step, who would prefer to take the younger and faster Fabio Jakobsen to the French grand tour, to let him attempt his historic effort to become the race’s all-time stage win record holder.
- While this is an exciting prospect, it is important to keep in mind that to win at, or even make, the Tour de France, Cavendish will have to beat much better sprinters than the field provided by the Tour of Oman. Fernando Gaviria might have been a top sprinter at one point, but he has been trending down in recent seasons and is a shadow of the rider that won two Tour stages in 2018.
Stage win for Anthon Charmig and Uno-X
10) After an impressive showing at the Etoile de Bessèges last week with Tobias Halland Johannessen riding onto the overall podium, the small Norwegian Uno-X team continued to outperform their status and budget by winning stage 3 at the Tour of Oman with the 23-year-old Dane, Anthon Charmig.
- The team’s ability to seemingly pull world-class riders out of the Scandinavian tundra is absurdly impressive.
- My guess is that this is due to a mixture of having access to an extremely fertile recruiting ground that has been completely overlooked by the byzantine cycling recruitment system and a great internal rider development process.
- A smart WorldTour team could simply shift their recruiting strategy to signing the best Uno-X riders every off-season and outperform 90% of every other team in the development race.
Alaphilippe doesn’t need a motorbike
# 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. #