The Road to Yorkshire: February
The 2019 racing season might still be very much in its infancy, but as we move into February we see pretty much every rider that will be eyeing the rainbow jersey in Yorkshire take to the road in earnest in the hope of finding some early season form.
Talking of rainbow jerseys, it didn’t take the reigning Men Elite Road Race champion Alejandro Valverde long to bag his first victory of the season with a typically well measured and strong finish on Stage 3 of the UAE Tour. In fact, only Mark Cavendish (Tour of Qatar 2012) & Peter Sagan (Tour Down Under 2018) have registered earlier victories in the season in the rainbow bands than Valverde in recent memory. Whilst the parcours in Yorkshire isn’t necessarily 100% suited to the reigning champion’s style, it’s difficult to rule out such a strong, all-terrain rider and it looks like he’s bringing his 2018 form into this year.
One rider who has been named by many as a possible victor in Yorkshire is the Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet; who also secured his first stage victory of 2019 at the Volta a la Comunitat Valeciana. His victory in this stage will be of particular satisfaction as he held off the challenge of reigning European Road Race champion Matteo Trentin, who was unable to come round the Belgian in the final few hundred metres when well set on his wheel. Yorkshire is of course a happy hunting ground for Van Avermaet who won the 2018 Tour de Yorkshire. Whilst Trentin didn’t manage to best Van Avermaet on Stage 3 of the Volta a la Comunitat Valeciana, he has shown some February form with 3 victories; including two in the Ruta del Sol.
Heading back to the UAE Tour, we witnessed a collection of the world’s top speedsters battling it out for sprinting supremacy here. Fernando Gaviria backed up his two wins in January with a further win on Stage 2 giving his team UAE Team Emirates a home soil victory as he beat an array of top talent such as Elia Viviani, Caleb Ewan, Marcel Kittel and teammate Alexander Kristoff. Perhaps the most impressive victory of the UAE Tour goes to the aforementioned Ewan though who mastered a nasty, short climb on the finish of Stage 4 using his trademark powerful sprinting technique to secure an unlikely victory over the likes of Primoz Roglic, Wilco Kelderman and Valverde. With the Yorkshire course favouring more of an all-rounder than just a pure out-and-out sprinter, this victory for Ewan will have made a few people sit up and take note.
Perhaps the most dominant performance in a February race goes to Alexey Lutsenko who won not one, not two, but three stages of the Tour of Oman; taking the GC crown for the second year in a row in the process. His form here saw him win three of the four mountainous stages with a mixture of punch and power that could not be matched by any other rider in the field.
Punch and power were also on display in Colombia when perennial contender Julian Alaphilippe won his third stage of 2019 and finished on the podium a further two times in the Tour Colombia 2.1. He showed no hesitation in a precise victory in front of a huge crowd. Arguably the most popular victory in Colombia came on the final day though, when four local favourites battled it out on the final ascent, where Nairo Quintana showed both his talent and tactics with a masterful victory as he took full advantage of Miguel Angel Lopez & Ivan Sosa’s dilly-dallying in the final KMs when it had looked like victory would come from that pairing.
March comes next and with it the start of the classics season, as the likes of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Strade Bianche & Milano-Sanremo are guaranteed to provide some truly exciting racing for both the male and female peloton – you can expect some of the favourites for Yorkshire 2019 to come to the fore here.