Pogačar NOT to win the Tour de France
The way Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) won the 2021 Tour with such ease, as well as pretty much every other race he went for, does at first glance make him appear a sure bet to defend the yellow jersey. But before you rush out to place your mortgage on him, there are a few things to consider that make his status as hot favourite not quite so secure.
Firstly, Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) is again targeting the Tour in 2022. Pogačar's win last year would surely have been a lot less comfortable had his compatriot not crashed out so early, and Roglič can at times look just as unbeatable as Pogačar.
Secondly, both Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers still have stronger squads than Pogačar's UAE Team Emirates, and have the strength in numbers to unsettle him — the former with last year’s runner-up Jonas Vingegaard set to join forces with Roglič, and the latter with Egan Bernal returning to the Tour to potentially join the likes of Richard Carapaz and Geraint Thomas. And thirdly, there’s always a reasonable chance that Pogačar’s fortunate run of avoiding injury, illness and any other kind of misfortune runs out. He might look unstoppable right now, but so much can change so suddenly in cycling.
Van Vleuten to achieve a Giro-Tour double
For many years the pursuit of the Giro-Tour double has been a white whale for many of the best cyclists in the men’s peloton, but with the introduction in 2022 of the Tour de France Femmes, could the elusive double be achieved by a woman? Trek-Segafredo's Elisa Longo Borghini reckoned it was possible, though of course she'd be backing a very different rider. Given the relative short length of the women’s events compared to the men’ equivalents, it certainly appears more realistic, and the fact the inaugural Tour will take place just two weeks after the Giro Donne means riders could theoretically carry their form from the former race into the latter.
If any rider is going to do the double, it’s Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar). She’s already stated her intentions of going for victory at the Tour, which, with its tough climbs, should suit her down to the ground. Whether or not she also targets the Giro remains to be seen, but, regardless of any complications of targeting two such hard races in close succession, she has the quality to overcome them.
Fabio Jakobsen to win more races than anyone else
The time has come for Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-QuickStep) to become the best sprinter in the world. Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) will miss the lead-outs he used to get from Decueninck-QuickStep, Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) has ambitions beyond the bunch sprints, and a 36-year-old Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) surely can’t maintain top form all season long like he did in his youth. Or can he? That paves the way for the 25-year-old Jakobsen to stake his claim.
Jakobsen is now fully recovered from his famous Tour of Poland crash, and was in fearsome from during the second half of last season; in the time between his first victory at the Tour de Wallonie in July to his seventh in September, no rider in the world more prolific. There’s no reason to believe he won’t carry that form into 2022. In fact, a year older and wiser, and with the Deceuninck-QuickStep lead-out train at his disposal, he’s likely to be even better. Expect him to top the win list in 2022.
Vas to be the breakthrough rider of the year
SD Worx have been busy filling in the holes left by their retiring stars, bringing in a new generation of the riders who are emerging to be the new world’s best, with Lotte Kopecky and Marlen Reusser both being signed to join last year’s successful recruit Demi Vollering. While all of these riders have already established themselves as among the peloton’s elite and will surely uphold SD Worx’s status as the top team, the most talented individual on their roster might be a more raw, unproven rider several years their junior: Kata Blanka Vas.
The Hungarian has already caused a sensation in cyclo-cross and mountain biking, and proved she could do it on the road too by finishing fourth at the Worlds having only turned 20 a few weeks earlier. As she embarks on her first full season on the road, there’s no telling what she’s capable of achieving.
Ewan to be crowned World Champion
There’s nothing especially unconventional about the 2022 World Championships route in Wollongong, which features the kind of short climbs that should suit the explosive puncheurs over everyone else.
The safe money would therefore be on either Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert or defending champion Julian Alaphilippe, seeing how they so regularly are the protagonists in one-day races. But despite the course’s climbing, Caleb Ewan fancies his chances of being crowned World Champion, motivated by the opportunity of doing so in his native country.
When you remember that he similarly made Milan-San Remo his primary target of 2021, and climbed better than we’ve ever seen him, to finish second that day, you can see why Ewan would have such self-belief.
Unlike many of the top one-day classics, the Worlds is often not won by a lone attacker. Half of the last six editions have been decided by sprints of varying group sizes. If Ewan can climb well enough to be present in a lead group, he should have the beating of everyone in a sprint.
Chloe Dygart to take Europe by storm
In the two years since her astonishing time trial at the World Championships in Yorkshire, Dygert’s career hasn’t gone to plan. The horrifying crash that ended her defence of that title in 2020 has mostly kept her on the side-lines since, during which time she has made more headlines for her controversial conduct on social media than for racing.
She approaches the 2022 season having had additional surgery to her injured leg during the autumn, and her Canyon-SRAM team are confident that she’ll get back up to speed this year. With the Olympic cycle now at its end following Tokyo, she’ll also at last focus on the road, embarking on her first ever European full road season campaign. If she can return to anything like the form that saw her win the rainbow jersey in 2019, women’s cycling better be prepared for her.
Don’t write off the old guard yet
Young riders are in vogue right now, and you can see why given that the average age of a Grand Tour podium finisher last year was 27. So is it curtains for any rider over the age of 30? Not necessarily.
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious) are among the peloton’s thirty-somethings who appear wither to be in permanent decline, or unable to keep up with the new, faster generation, but don’t write them off just yet. Pinot's woes last year were more down to injuries rather than age, so could be resurgent once he puts those issues behind him; and Landa was also showing terrific form before a crash at the Giro derailed his season. Both could still compete for Grand Tour podiums.
31-year-old Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) may find a new lease of life with new team TotalEnergies, and is always more dangerous when flying under the radar, so could yet sneak another big classics win. And then there’s Chris Froome (Israel-StartUp Nation), who remains determined to become competitive again at the age of 36. Given how Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) was also 36 when he proved us all wrong last year by returning to the Tour de France at his very best, who’s to say he can’t as well?
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Stephen Puddicombe is a freelance journalist for Cycling Weekly, who regularly contributes to our World Tour racing coverage with race reports, news stories, interviews and features. Outside of cycling, he also enjoys writing about film and TV - but you won't find much of that content embedded into his CW articles.
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