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Roundtable: Wout van Aert and Remco Evenepoel light up a dramatic week

Who are you more excited about, Evenepoel or Van Aert? Should Ineos be concerned by Jumbo-Visma's dominance at Tour de l'Ain? Where does accountability lie for the horror crash in Poland?

From horror crashes to mountaintop battles and scintillating sprints, the past week of pro racing has seen it all.

The terrible pileup at Tour of Poland that left Fabio Jakobsen seriously injured blighted the start of the dramatic past few days of top-level competition. Five days later, Jakobsen’s Deceuninck-Quick-Step teammate Remco Evenepoel took the GC honors at the race as he continued his spectacular season, dedicating the win to his injured colleague.

Meanwhile, Jumbo-Visma put the squeeze on Team Ineos in the Jura mountains at the Tour de l’Ain, coming out top in the first fight for bragging rights before the Tour de France.

The Dutch squad continued to dominate the week’s headlines with Wout van Aertsdramatic victory at Milano-Sanremo on Saturday, just one week after he had powered to the win at Strade Bianche.

Can Van Aert do it all? Who are we more excited about, Remco or Wout? And where does the accountability lie for the crash at Tour of Poland?

Let’s roundtable!

Is Van Aert the most ‘complete’ rider in the world right now?

Wout van Aert: Cool and collected in all circumstances: Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Andrew Hood (@eurohoody): In today’s specialized peloton, there is no fully complete rider who can better the best in all facets of racing. Having said that, Van Aert comes very close. His only weakness is climbing in the high mountains. You can’t have everything, and I happily prefer watching the attacking, aggressive Wout to a controlled, calculating climber racing off a power meter.

James Startt: Most complete I don’t know. But he can sprint, he can time trial, he can ride ‘cross and he can win classics as different as Strade Bianche and Milan-Sanremo. But is he the most complete rider? – I don’t know. Julian Alaphilippe, who narrowly lost to him in Sanremo makes a strong argument for most complete.  Last year he was the rider who won Strade, Sanremo as well as two stages in the Tour and a 14-day spell in the yellow jersey.

Jim Cotton (@jim_c_1985): He’s certainly up there. What stands out for me from Strade and Sanremo is that he doesn’t just have the engine to win time trials and the handling skills to win cross, but the racing nerve and acumen to know when to attack and when to bide his time. The fact that it came down to him and Alaphilippe on the Via Roma Saturday is telling – as James said, they’re arguably the two most versatile riders in the bunch right now.

Jumbo-Visma’s leaders were dominant at Tour de l’Ain. Should Ineos be worried for the Tour?

Roglic on the way to victory in the final stage of Tour de lA'in. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images
Roglic on the way to victory in the final stage of Tour de l’Ain, capping a dominant team performance. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Jim: Although there are still more than two weeks until the start of the  Tour, the Tour de l’Ain could leave some nerves in the Ineos bus. While Roglič and Bernal were inseparable, and the teams’ two returning stars, Dumoulin and Froome, both showed flashes of form while on domestique duties, it’s the numbers that Jumbo-Visma was able to pack with Bennett, Kruijswijk and Gesink that could make the difference. Castroviejo was left as last man standing for Bernal throughout l’Ain, and Bernal looked exposed a few times.

Andrew: The Tour de France is what really counts, and Ineos knows it. The team has the experience and the depth to handle the race, and that will prove a huge advantage in September. Jumbo-Visma, however, clearly looks up to the challenge. If any team can match up against Ineos, it’s the Jumbo crew. Roglič is just the type of rider who can up-end Ineos’s long-running Tour domination. Get out the popcorn!

James: Ineos should be worried and they should have been worried for the past year. All it takes is looking at the immense talent that Jumbo-Visma has either developed or bought. And they have made no secret about it. Outside of Bernal, the Ineos talent pool, built around Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome is aging. But that is outside of Bernal, who may just be the best rider of his generation. And the Tour de l’Ain is a long way from the Tour de France.

Who are you more excited about, Evenepoel or Van Aert?

Evenepoel made it four stage-race wins from four at Tour of Poland. Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images.

James: I’m just excited about this generation. We’ve just had an amazing run of immensely talented riders with a lot of personality since Peter Sagan arrived on the scene. Remco, van der Poel, Van Aert, Alaphilippe, Bernal and Sagan are all just so much fun to cover.

Jim: Watching them both through the rest of the season will be fascinating as they’re in different stages of their careers and development. For Remco, it’s about watching the longer arc over the next few years – can he continue developing, is he a grand tour rider? Whereas for Wout, his time is very much now. Results at the cobbled monuments late October could see him take his place in cycling’s hall of fame.

Andrew: I’m excited about racing — period. Despite some hiccups out of the gates, and the horrific crash at the Tour de Pologne, cycling has done a commendable job at rolling out competition in the middle of a world pandemic. How long it lasts largely depends on what’s happening with the coronavirus across Europe. It’s a pleasure to watch any race right now.

Is Dylan Groenewegen solely to blame for the crash at Poland, or should other factors also be taken into account?

Groenewegen’s wayward line was one of many factors causing the serious pileup at Tour of Poland. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images.

Andrew: Groenewegen certainly deserves his share of the blame — there’s no excuse to deviate from his line like that. Is it criminal, as Patrick Lefevere claims? Hmm, don’t know about that. It’s easy enough to throw Groenewegen under the bus on this one, but that sprint finale — with a wide descent coming onto a narrow road with train tracks off to one side — is one that riders have complained about for years. One rider said he hit 81kph on the sprint. And the severity of the crash was exacerbated by the low-rent quality of the barriers. No way should Jakobsen have flown through those barriers and struck that finish-line structure the way he did.

Jim: There’s no way you can lay all the blame on Groenewegen. For sure, he contributed, but he certainly wouldn’t have intended harm – he was just trying to win the race. That downhill sprint has been used at Poland for a number of years now and has drawn criticism every time, and those barriers made things far worse. At other races, barriers keep riders inside the racecourse rather than exploding them into the air and causing wider carnage. Both the organizers of the race and wider governing bodies need to be called out for this one.

James: No I don’t think he is solely to blame. He is young and was closing the door on his right side like many sprinters do out of instinct. I don’t think for a minute that he intentionally tried to cause a crash. I also don’t think it was the best idea to have a downhill sprint on the first stage of a race so early in the season. Such a sprint simply makes for chaos.