The Road to Yorkshire - April
The season is in full swing now, the early season cobwebs have well and truly been blown away and more and more of the dominant riders from the last few years have started to come to the fore in April. Let’s firstly take a look at some of the ladies that have been lighting up the peloton in the women’s World Tour this month.
Perhaps the most consistent dominant force in 2019 has been Annemiek van Vlueten and in April the reigning World Time Trial champion has raced five times and her race results read 7th, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd and 1st, with her final result seeing her win Liege Bastogne Liege Femmes for the first time. A perennial contender on all terrain, van Vlueten will be the rider to watch come September in Yorkshire.
Another rider who delivered a strong April was Canyon SRAM’s young Polish sensation Katarzyna Niewiadoma who also sealed top 10 in the five races she contested, including a thrilling win tin the Amstel Gold Race Ladies Edition, when she put the hammer down on the famous Cauberg climb and managed to hold off the aforementioned van Vlueten to bag her first WT win of the year.
Reigning World Road Race champion Anna van der Breggen perhaps hasn’t quite brought the dominant form she showed in 2018 to the Ardennes classics but she still managed to show that there is no-one in the women’s peloton who can dominate La Fléche Wallonne quite like her as she took a record-equalling fifth title here with yet another lung-busting attack on the Mur de Huy.
Finally, although she only raced three times in April, reigning European champion Marta Bastianelli is showing great form, especially earlier in the month when she backed up an impressive 2nd place at Dwars door Vlaanderen with victory four days later at the Ronde van Vlaanderen in front of huge crowds.
In the men’s peloton there has been one performance above all others that have got people talking – and that is the performance of Mathieu van der Poel in the Amstel Gold Race. With 2km to go, van der Poel’s hopes looked dead and buried as it looked like it would be a straight up battle between two of the form men of 2019 - Julian Alaphilippe and Jakob Fuglsang. However, he single-handedly managed to pull back a small group of riders before launching an audacious sprint from distance of his own, bursting past Alaphilippe and Fuglsang, and crossing the line. The Dutch champion held his head in total shock as he crossed the line, almost in disbelief that such a comeback had been achieved. It was the kind of performance seen once in a generation and will live long in the memory of many cycling fans. When you add into the mix that he also won Brabantse Pijl four days earlier (again, ahead of a stellar bunch), won Dwars door Vlaanderen and managed a fourth place in the Ronde van Vlaanderen despite crashing heavily, his April must be seen as one of the most impressive individual months of the year (or any year for that matter!)
Away from van der Poel, it was an incredible Ardennes week for Jakob Fuglsang who finished on the podium at Amstel Gold Race, was beaten into second place narrowly at La Fléche Wallonne before sealing his maiden Monument with victory at Liege Bastogne Liege. In the latter of those three, a brave solo break with just over 10km to go proved decisive, as he somehow managed to not crash when that seemed the only option on a tricky descent, to solo his way to victory on a wet and slippery track.
Julian Alaphilippe remains a dominant performer in the men’s World Tour, even if he didn’t quite achieve what he wanted to in April. This is a remarkable sentence in itself, baring in mind he won La Fléche Wallonne with a trademark unparalleled kick on the Mur de Huy and finished 2nd at Brabantse Pijl and 4th at Amstel Gold Race. On current form, Alaphilippe must head to Yorkshire as the favourite for the 2019 Road Race title.
At the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Italian Alberto Bettiol bagged his first career victory with a spectacular solo ride. Bettiol, who has seemed destined to have a big win sooner or later, decided to bag it in one of the biggest races of the year with an excellently timed attack on the second last climb and then took full advantage of a sloppy chase from the remaining field, to seal an incredible victory. A fortnight after this victory, Bettiol and his Italian teammates Elia Viviani, Matteo Trentin and Sonny Colbrelli came to Yorkshire to take a closer look at the 2019 road race course. "It's a tough world championships, with a route that reminds me of the northern Classics, where you'll need to know how to save as much energy as possible, to stay alert, and to try to stay as close to the front as possible” were his thoughts on the course – and following his performance in Flanders, perhaps Yorkshire will be perfectly suited to his skill set.
Elsewhere, 2012 World Champion Philippe Gilbert rolled back the years at Paris Roubaix to win his fourth different Monument of his career – he now only needs Milan-Sanremo to complete the set. Gilbert’s mastery of tactics was yet again on display in Roubaix as he picked all the right moves before forming part of a two-man break, with Nils Politt, that hit the Roubaix velodrome together. Gilbert then used his express sprint to round his German counterpart on the final corner before raising his arms in victory in front of a packed house. If the opportunity presents itself in September, expect Gilbert to not think twice about taking it.