Zdeněk Štybar is having the best season of his career
Cycling’s Classics season is littered with bridesmaids and so very few brides.
While there are just a handful of Monument winners who compete at the front of the prestigious spring races, there are far more regular faces who have never scored that big win.
For many years, former cyclocross world champion Zdeněk Štybar has been at the forefront of these bridesmaids.
There are a few one-day victories adorning his palmarès – most notably Strade Bianche in 2015 – but Štybar’s list of Classics victories is surprisingly brief
However it looks like his potential may be transforming into delivery, as the Czech rider takes his second one-day victory of the year.
First taking Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on opening weekend and following it up with a small bunch sprint victory at E3 BinckBank Classic, the stars may be aligning for Štybar for the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix.
More bad luck for Sep Vanmarke
Belgium’s Sep Vanmarcke has been knocking on the door of a big Classics victory since winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 2012.
But the EF Education First rider has got to be one of the unluckiest one-day specialists in the peloton, as proven in E3.
Vanmarcke crashed 85km from home and looked to be in a lot of pain while sat in a ditch at the side of the road.
The extent of his injuries were not immediately evident, but his race (and possibly his spring campaign) was over.
Vanmarcke was caught in an early crash in last year’s Tour of Flanders that fortunately did not spoil his race as he rode to 13th.
But in 2017 he was not so lucky, when he crashed out of Flanders and was forced to miss Paris-Roubaix a week later.
Despite all his misfortune, Vanmarcke has got to be one of the most talented riders to never win a major Classic.
Peter Sagan still not at his best
While a below-par Peter Sagan is still stronger than 90 per cent of the peloton, the Slovakian’s recent ailments were clear in E3.
Sagan hit the front and drove the pace on the Taaienberg climb with 77km to ride, but was easily followed by rivals including Greg Van Avermaet and Yves Lampaert and quickly slipped back.
Struck with illness ahead of Tirreno-Adriatico, Sagan missed some key training and the deficit is showing.
He stuck in the front of the race valiantly for the much of the day, looking like he might be able to bluff his way into the final, but with 20km the Bora-Hansgrohe leader was dropped.
Greg Van Avermaet’s monster attack as Bob Jungels looked like he might hold on to victory was too much for Sagan, who blew up in spectacular fashion.
An uncommon sight for cycling fans, and an ominous sign just 10 days away from the Tour of Flanders.
Sagan did drop back to the team car after being dropped, which suggested a mechanical may have played its part but we’re certainly not seeing the best of Sagan so far this year.
Bob Jungels can do it all
Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s Bob Jungels is widely considered one of the best general classification riders for the Belgian outfit.
His results do support that theory, with the Luxembourger finishing inside the top-10 of the Giro d’Italia in 2016 and 2017, and finishing 11th at the Tour de France last year.
His climbing prowess was also confirmed by his Liège-Bastogne-Liège victory last season, but his return to the cobbles this spring has shown Jungels’ true versatility.
Heading into E3 with Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne victory already this year, Jungels obliterated the field from 60km.
First attacking the peloton and bridging across to the breakaway solo, the 26-year-old decided to leave the escapees behind and ride solo from 30km.
The long-range effort may not have worked out this time, but Jungels was still able to lead out Štybar in the final showing his untapped class in these early races.
A Wout van Aert victory is inevitable
Hype and reality are often far removed, particularly in the world of cycling.
Many junior and under-23 stars fail to reach their full potential at the top-tier, and many cross-discipline stars struggle to make the leap across to the road.
Štybar himself is an example of this expectation, only recently showing his best on the road after his time as a cyclocross star.
But Wout van Aert’s debut season with a WorldTour team appears to be a different story, with the Belgian looking like he will inevitably score a big win sooner rather than later.
Since starting with Jumbo-Visma in March, Van Aert has ridden four races and has been phenomenal in all of them.
He took third at Strade Bianche for a second year in a row, then finished sixth in Milan-San Remo after making the elite selection and sprinted to second in E3.
This run of consistency, in races so different in character, resembles the all-round talent of Peter Sagan or Greg Van Avermaet.
All this suggests that Van Aert, at 24, is worth all the hype and is destined to win something major in the near future.
Quick-Step’s reign continues
Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s dominance this season has been the backbone of all cycling analysis so far, but their control in one-day races cannot be ignored.
The Belgian team have won all of the most notable classics this season, starting with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (Štybar) through to Strade Bianche, Milan-San Remo (Julian Alaphilippe) and now E3 (Štybar again).
This must leave the likes of Van Avermaet and Sagan wondering what they can possibly do to beat a team stacked with hitters.
While Quick-Step may be beginning to attract some of the animosity aimed at Sky during the Tour de France, their ways of winning also allow them to escape quite the same level of vitriol.
They can win in countless ways through the depth of their team, with the squad always stacked with riders carrying the potential to ride to victory.
Whether it’s a solo attack like Jungels in Kuurne, a punchy climb or reduced bunch sprint with Alaphilippe, or a last kilometre dig like Štybar in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, unpredictability makes Quick-Step the most dangerous team in the world in the opening four months of the year.