The big stand out for me during “opening weekend” was Jumbo-Visma’s strength, especially at the critical points in both races.
They had strength in numbers, and at one point they looked like they were about to win again in the finale of Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne with Christophe Laporte. The Dutch team had the upper hand in both races, while Quick-Step – although they won Kuurne – just never looked as dominant as they have in other years. The power that they’ve had before wasn’t quite there, and what was surprising was that they weren’t controlling the races at all.
Kasper Asgreen looked to be on his own at times, and here in Belgium, the press had already been talking about whether Jumbo-Visma could be the strongest team this spring. This weekend we’ve seen that Jumbo-Visma are a force going forward.
One aspect I wonder about with Quick-Step is whether they’ve looked at bringing more riders in to support Remco Evenepoel and if that’s stretched some of their investment when it comes to the spring classics. Maybe they’ve just not found the right riders yet, but I wonder if their diversification means that their classics’ dominance could be challenged as more teams build up their stables. It is still early though, and we’ve seen them bounce back before. It’s also a sign of a good team if you can win when you’re not at 100 percent but right now Jumbo-Visma appears the strongest unit out there.
I read a few commentators point to the fact that Quick-Step missed Tim Declercq. Of course, they miss him in terms of the fact that he can do the work of two riders, and that he can sit on the front for so long and control the break but that doesn’t win the bike race.
If you’re looking at Wout van Aert I don’t think that Quick-Step really has the answers at the moment. Of course, Asgreen is a great rider, and he showed that in the Tour of Flanders last year. And if Julian Alaphilippe comes back into selection, then they’ll have a couple of big players but the way Benoot raced at the weekend was impressive as well. Even Nathan Van Hooydonck opening up the race before the Berendries in Omloop was impressive. Jumbo seemed to be able to bring their riders into play much earlier, and it’s hard to counter that.
Van Hooydonck turned pro with us at BMC Racing back in 2017, and even back then you could see what a talent he was. He’s learned the ropes now. He’s always had that pedigree, and everyone knows that his uncle won the Tour of Flanders twice, so he gets a lot of advice from that side. Now that he’s riding with riders like van Aert and Benoot, it’s just given him extra motivation because he knows that he’s working for leaders who can really win anything.
What really surprised me today, and I know that Greg Van Avermaet was third in Omloop, was that the faces of a few years ago seem to be fading. Peter Sagan wasn’t in the finale, and overall it just feels like a changing of the guard in many ways. The change, for me, has come really fast. It’s only a couple of years ago that Philippe Gilbert was wining in the cobbled classics, but it feels like a new generation is suddenly coming through. I know that these races are early in the season and that other riders will come in, but it feels like a shift.
Obviously, there’s time now between the next block of cobbled races and we must see how riders deal with the fact that “opening weekend” was comprised of races of around 200km. Once you get into the bigger races, and those extra hours of racing, everything changes. The races are longer, they’re harder, and there’s more fatigue involved. I do think that Jumbo-Visma will still be strong down the track in Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders, and Laporte has been a great signing. I think that they’ll still be the leading team in a few weeks.
I was also surprised by how Ineos Grenadiers rode as a team. They had a good Tom Pidcock who made it look effortless this weekend, and the kid seems to take it all in his stride. He’s got great pedaling action, but his experience still needs time to develop.
He said himself that he made a few too many mistakes, and I think that’s fair. He’s still very young and it takes time to learn these races. As a team though they had riders up there in both races. I think that they’re really a force to be reckoned with this season, and with Roger Hammond in the team, that’s really important. He and Servais Knaven know these races like the back of their hands, and they’ve got a good dynamic.