The Road to Yorkshire: January
It’s always a tricky business, trying to predict the results in a professional road race – there’s so many variables; things like weather, terrain and form can all play a major part.
Then of course there’s luck – a rider could be one bike length behind a crash that happens 1km from the finish line and all hope for the day is dashed or one bike length in front of said crash could lead to arms raised in victory.
So looking at results in January, a full nine months before the Road World Championships in Yorkshire, could lead to some foolish early predictions – but yet that’s what we’re going to do here!
Perhaps the safest place to start then is with the 3-time World Champion, Peter Sagan. A run of podium place finishes in Australia (Down Under Classic, Tour Down Under stage 5) and Argentina (Vuelta a San Juan Stage 2 & 4) shows early season promise, but easily the most exciting result for the man from Slovakia was his stage win on Stage 3 of the Tour Down Under into Uraidla. The significance of this result is that this was a stage that some felt didn’t necessarily suit Sagan’s skillset, yet, just like in 2018, he showed that he is a man for many courses with a dominant victory.
Another rider with a particularly good showing at the Tour Down Under was New Zealand and Team CCC rider Paddy Bevin. An impressive victory over a field of strong sprinters into Norwood on Stage 2 saw Bevin take the GC leader’s jersey which he would hold onto until the final day. Had it not been for a nasty crash on the penultimate stage which caused Bevin clear discomfort, he could well have been in the reckoning for the overall title.
If the peloton stay together in September and it comes down to a sprint, then one name that will be a clear favourite based on his early season form is Elia Viviani. His name is down as victor on Stage 1 of the Tour Down Under, but this does little to tell the full story of what was a truly outstanding sprint from the reigning Italian champion. With 300m to go, and seemingly boxed-in and out of contention, Viviani squeezed through the tightest gap between Phil Bauhaus and the side hoardings before peeling round Max Walscheid to take a remarkable victory. Then 12 days later, he took another victory, this time in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, this time in a more conventional sprint, where he beat fellow speedster Caleb Ewan on the line in a photo finish.
Another sprinter showing real early season promise is Colombian Fernando Gaviria. Judging his early form, his move to a new team in 2019 hasn't slowed him down, as two perfectly executed sprints on Stage 1 & Stage 4 of the Vuelta a San Juan saw him raise his arms aloft twice - beating a host of other talented fast men such as Sagan, Sam Bennett and Mark Cavendish.
Due to the technical nature of the Elite Men Road Race in Yorkshire, some think it might not come down to a bunch sprint, and one rouleur who has shown a clear penchant for breakaway victories is mercurial Frenchman, Julian Alaphilippe. All early signs are pointing towards Alaphilippe’s 2018 form being brought into 2019, as it all looked business as usual for the Frenchman as he recorded victory on Stage 2 of the Vuelta a San Juan. Alaphilippe’s positioning was yet again brilliant as he, alongside Winner Anacona and Nairo Quintana, overhauled the breakaway with just over 10km, before he rode away from the Movistar pair and held off the peloton to record his first victory of the year. Alaphilippe then backed up this performance the following day, by registering the fastest time in the Individual Time Trial too – another thing to keep an eye on ahead of September’s World Championships. It’s also worth noting that Alaphilippe’s hugely promising teenage teammate, Remco Evenepoel, finished an impressive 3rd on this stage too – showing his massive potential in just his third outing as a professional.
So far in 2019, there has been limited opportunities for the women to show what they can do – but that hasn’t stopped Amanda Spratt from showing her pedigree. Winning stage 2 of the Santos Women's Tour Down Under, Spratt took the overall lead. She held this throughout the rest of the race to show her dominance in Australia and sealed her third consecutive title here. This result was backed up by her third place finish in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, where Cuban Arlenis Sierra spoiled the Australian’s show by bagging the biggest win of her cycling career.
Spratt’s Mitchelton-SCOTT teammate Lucy Kennedy also showed some impressive early season form by taking the Herald Sun Tour title too. Kennedy's performance displayed a mixture of brilliant attacking moves coupled with fearless descending to register her first victory of 2019.
One month down, we wait to see what February brings next.