Tadej Pogacar is a superstar in the making
Following the form of Sky’s duo of Egan Bernal and Ivan Sosa at the Tour Colombia, as well as the startling start teenager Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) made to life in the pro peloton at the Vuelta a San Juan, there’s a lot of hype surrounding young riders at the moment.
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Tadej Pogacar’s (UAE Team Emirates) overall victory at the Volta ao Algarve last week was even more impressive. Hr produced a complete performance, attacking to win the first uphill finish of the race, consolidating his grip on the race with a more than competent time trial, then defending himself under pressure in the final stage.
To do all that at the tender age of 20 is a remarkable achievement, and it’s exciting to think about what Pogacar might be capable of once he has had time to mature and develop.
His emergence also points to a boom in Slovenian cycling, following the recent success of Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-Merida). Could Slovenia be the new Colombia?
Astana has extraordinary strength in depth
No team has won more races so far this season as Astana, who have burst out of the blocks with twelve wins in the space of just 16 days this month.
All of that success has come in stage races, and on behalf of several different riders, with Ion Izagirre, Gorka Izagirre, Luis Leon Sanchez, Alexey Lutsenko and Miguel Angel Lopez all claiming the overall titles.
At the Ruta del Sol that run continued, with Jakob Fuglsang performing solidly in the opening uphill sprint and stage three time trial before capitalising on Tim Wellens’ (Lotto-Soudal) collapse, and in doing so become the sixth different rider from Astana to win the overall classification of a stage race this month – which we’re sure must be some kind of record.
The team’s extraordinary strength in depth was on full display in Andalusia, with Ion Izagirre claiming second overall and Pello Bilbao fourth. It’s unlikely they’ll maintain this level of dominance for the rest of the season, but – whether this current purple patch is the result of a conscious effort to condition their riders to reach form early in the season, or the product of a more long-term improvement – Astana look set to be a formidable force to be reckoned with in 2019.
Søren Kragh Andersen can do everything
Although Pogacar won the race and rightfully stole all the headline, Søren Kragh Andersen’s (Sunweb) performances to seal second overall at the Volta ao Algarve merit great praise too.
The big, powerful rouleur would never have been expected to compete for the overall in a race usually won by climbers, yet Andersen excelled in all terrain to push Pogacar all the way to the finish.
Having finished as high as sixth place in the opening bunch sprint and limited his losses in stage two’s mountain top finish, the Dane produced a killer time trial to move up to third overall.
It was in the final stage where he really impressed, boldly attacking from far out in attempt to win the overall amid the kind of hilly terrain you would not have thought would have suited him.
Still just 24, evidently Andersen is developing into a brilliant all-round rider.
Simon Yates begins 2019 where he left off from 2018
Any doubts that Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) could live up to the exceptionally high standards he set in 2018, which ended with him winning the Vuelta a España, were eased on stage four of the Ruta del Sol, where he soloed to a very impressive stage win.
Although he had already lost too much time to contest the GC, his on the penultimate climb of the stage, and ability to hold off an esteemed group of chasers all the way to the finish, was an indication that the Brit is already on great form.
It was a trademark move from Yates, who has won many of his career victories from early attacks on lumpy terrain. Expect him to make similar moves when he targets overall victory at Paris-Nice next month.
Classics riders show form ahead of spring campaign
Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) might have been disappointed by his failure to defend his title at the Ruta del Sol after being dropped on the hilly penultimate stage, but the way he dominated both the opening cobbled uphill sprint and, more surprisingly, the stage three time trial, suggests he’s in excellent shape for the spring classics, of which the Ardennes Classics in April will be the main target.
Matteo Trentin’s (Mitchelton-Scott) two stage wins there also suggests that he, despite traditionally performing better in the autumn, should enter the spring as a top favourite for some of the major Classics, starting with Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
He will, however, face stiff competition in any large sprints from Dylan Groenewegen (Visma-Jumbo) and Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ), both of whom looked in good nick at the Volta ao Algarve, with the latter winning stage four.
Finally, 2019 could be a big spring for Zdenek Stybar, who should move up the Deceuninck-Quick-Step Classics hierarchy following the departures of Fernando Gaviria and Niki Terpstra, and the Czech rider made his case with an excellent victory in hill terrain on the final stage in Algarve.