Traditionalists may say the racing season doesn’t truly begin until the ‘opening weekend’ double bill of Omloop Het Neuwsblad and Kurne-Brussles-Kurne. However, there’s always meaningful competition ahead of this late February date in Belgium. Including this past week, no less.
We’ve seen three stage races of note in the shape of Etoile de Bessèges in France, Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana in Spain and the Saudi Tour in, well, Saudi.
Each provided some exciting moments as well as hints of form to come and suggestions of potential problems on the horizon (Can Remco climb well enough to compete in the Grand Tours?). It’s also given us plenty of opportunity to take a closer look at this season’s best bikes and equipment. So who were the manufacturing winners from this week’s packed calendar?
Etoile de Bessèges
1- Benjamin Thomas (Cofidis) - De Rosa, Campagnolo, Corima
2- Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost) - Cannondale, Shimano, Vision
3- Tobias Halland Johannessen (Uno-X Pro Cycling) DARE, Shimano, DT Swiss
De Rosa will certainly have been happy with the exposure its Merak race bikes received in France thanks to the performance of the Cofidis team. Not only did the French outfit win the GC in the shape of Benjamin Thomas it also picked up back-to-back stages victories, with sprinter Bryan Coquard winning Stage 2 ahead of Thomas’s Stage 3 victory.
Filling the other steps on the final podium were EF Education’s Alberto Bettiol and Uno-X’s Tobias Halland Johannessen. We’re used to seeing Cannodale’s SuperSix EVO at the business end of races and Bettiol showed off the new paint job, complete with garish pink fork inspired by the team’s latest Rapha kit, to great effect.
However the lesser known Dare bikes, a Norwegian direct-to-consumer brand, also found themselves in the shop window thanks largely to the performance of Johannessen and to a lesser extent teammate Rasmus Tiller. Both riders utilized the VSRu aero race bike for the road stages and the TSRf for the final stage ITT.
As for that time trial it was won unsurprisingly by Ineos’s Fillipo Ganna. The reigning world champion in the discipline, Ganna looks set for another big year. Not only has his team intimated that he'll be given a bit more of a free rein in certain races such as Milan-San Remo, but it appears likely that he will attempt the hour record at some point in 2022.
With Ineos’s switch to Bioracer clothing in the offseason, the 10.6km route from Alés to Alés l’Ermitage was our first glimpse of the team in its new TT skinsuit - unquestionably a vital part of kit in Ganna’s attempt at the hour record. Bioracer has made a name for itself as a pioneer in aero-infused clothing and Ganna’s win, by seven seconds over Trek-Segafredo’s Mads Pedersen, is certainly a case of so far, so good for the Belgian kit manufacturer.
Interestingly, it looks as though Trek-Segafredo's Bauke Mollema is up to his old tricks again; during last week's GP Cycliste de Marseille La Marseillaise his cockpit appeared to be devoid of a computer head unit. This week he again seemed to be riding footloose and GPS-free. Chalk one up for the old school.
Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana
1- Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-hangrohe) - Specialized, Shimano, Roval
2- Remco Evenepoel (Quickstep-Alpha Vinyl) - Specialized, Shimano, Roval
3- Carlos Rodriguez (Ineos Grenadiers) - Pinarello, Shimano, Shimano
Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl have started 2022 like they have begun many a season. By winning. Three stage victories at the Volta, two from Dutch sprinter Fabio Jakobsen and one from Evenepoel on the opening stage, meant their continued success was, once again, Specialized’s gain.
Both men gave Spesh’s Tarmac SL7 plenty of airtime; especially the prodigious 22-year-old Belgian, who’s seemingly never far away from a headline or three. He finished the week on the second step of the podium as well as the winner of the white jersey. He even made news by underperforming, cracking on the gravel climb of the Alto Antenas del Maigmó on stage 3, later criticizing its inclusion and likening it to mountain biking.
In fact the Tarmac SL7 was front and centre of the race thanks in no small part to the dominant performance of Aleksandr Vlasov. Riding his first year in the green Le Col kit of Bora, the 25-year Russian won the queen stage that broke Evenepoel, helping him to the first GC win of his career.
Seemingly unperturbed by the generously-sized lumps of gravel, he, like most of the riders, appeared to make no obvious concessions to the terrain. Scanning the peloton as it split to pieces over the brutal final 3 kms of the climb it looked like 28mm width tyres was as wide as it got.
February, of course, is too early to start drawing conclusions. However, Carlos Rodriguez’s impressive showing aboard a disc-brake equipped Pinarello Dogma F provided at least a suggestion that Ineos’s move to discs is complete. The 21-year-old climber was backed by a rim brake free team. In Etoile de Bessèges, Richard Carapaz was also riding a Dogma F Disc before his unfortunate crash. As a rider who finished 2021 still on rim brakes it might be the biggest indicator yet.
1- Maxim Van Gils (Lotto Soudal) - Ridley, Shimano, DT Swiss
2- Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain Victorious) - Merida, Shimano, Vision
3- Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates) - Colnago, Campagnolo, Campagnolo
There were plenty of tech winners in Saudi too. Maxim Van Gils won the GC for Lotto Soudal onboard a Ridley Noah Fast bike. The Belgian outfit also bagged two stages thanks to Caleb Ewen and Van Gils’ impressive ride on Stage 4.
Giant’s return to the pro peloton got off to a dream start with two stage wins by Team BikeExchange-Jayco’s sprinter Dylan Groenewegen. The Dutch rider had left Jumbo-Visma at the end of 2021 in search of more opportunity, having been left at home during the Tour de France as the team pulled ranks around GC contender Primož Roglič. While it’s still early, this showing certainly hints at a more profitable season ahead - and one that should mean we’ll get to see plenty of Giant’s Propel Advanced SL Disc aero bike as well as Cadex’s wheels and tyres.
Buitrago’s showing was also a solid start for both Bahrain Victorious and its bike sponsor Merida. The Merida Reacto Team-E road bike got bags of exposure in the desert as it did during the Volta, where Pello Bilbao, Luis León Sánchez, and Jan Tratnik all put on impressive displays during the queen stage.
Don't forget to check out our complete guide to the 2022 WorldTour bikes.
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