The Road to Yorkshire – March
Whilst January and February served as an aperitif for the start of the racing season, it is undeniable that March has served up some truly remarkable performances on the road as male and female riders seek to establish early season dominance and lay down a marker for the rest of the 2019 season.
It’s arguable that the months of March and April and, with it, the majority of the classics season, will give us the best indication of what to expect in Yorkshire in September. This is due to the nature of the Yorkshire parcours, which many expert suggests is well suited to riders that go well in the major classic races. So without further ado, let’s look at some individuals who have stood out in March.
One name continues to dominate in the men’s elite racing, having featured already in our January and February write ups too, and that is Julian Alaphilippe. Alaphilippe conquered in early, mid and late March with a mixture of devastating power, breakneck speed and clever timing seeing him secure four victories in the month – bringing his total wins in 2019 up to seven. At Strade Bianche, Alaphilippe rode smartly to stay in contention before being part of a decisive three-man break with Jakob Fuglsang and Wout van Aert. Fuglsang and Alaphilippe continued to press the pace to such a point that van Aert couldn’t hang on before Alaphilippe showed his power on the final climb in Siena to secure victory. Two stage wins then came at Tirreno-Adriatico before Alaphilippe secured his maiden Monument victory with another hugely impressive performance at Milano-Sanremo. Here, his teammates set an insatiable pace up the Poggio climb, whittling the bunch down to an elite set of riders (including former World Champion Peter Sagan, reigning World Champion Alejandro Valverde and reigning European champion Matteo Trentin) before Alaphilippe outsprinted these other contenders for victory. It is undeniable that he is in irresistible form at the moment.
In the women’s WorldTour, there was an early season victory for Annemiek van Vleuten who won Strade Bianche. Van Vleuten’s victory was all the more incredible due to the fact that she only had 10 weeks of training coming into the race due to a fractured knee suffered in the Innsbruck Road World Championships towards the end of last season. The reigning Time Trial World Champion bided her time in the race before a devastating attack on the steep part of the final gravel sector – her rivals tried to keep with her – but such was the power from van Vleuten that their efforts were in vain as she ended up winning the race by a margin of over 30 seconds.
Three-time World Champion Marianne Vos also bagged her maiden 2019 victory in March at Trofeo Alfredo Binda. 2018 Trofeo champion Katarzyna Niewiadoma & Cecile Ludwig tried to make it hard with a flurry of attacks but Vos was in ominous form and held them all off to sprint to victory. It was Vos’s fourth Trofeo Alfredo Binda victory of her career.
Another former World Champion that looked in great form in March was 2017 champion Chantal Blaak at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Blaak took advantage of a strung-out field to attack over the summit of the Bosberg – the final climb of the day. The chasing pack didn’t get organised quickly enough and this allowed Blaak to solo away to her first victory of the season.
Back in the Men’s WorldTour, there was more dominance in the men’s classics by Deceuninck-QuickStep – the Belgian team famed for the one-day racing tactics. In Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Zdeněk Štybar displayed intelligence and skill in abundance – first by recognising the right move to join – with fellow Classics specialists Greg Van Avermaet, Time Wellens, Dyland Teuns and form man Alexey Lutsenko. Štybar watched Wellens attack which was marked by Van Avermaet and once he had been pulled back in, the Czech rider launched his own attack which was unable to be brought back aver over 200km had already been ridden. Štybar’s victory here was followed up by another magnificent performance later in the month, this time at the E3 BinckBank Classic. Here, the Czech man, left it mostly down to his teammate Bob Jungels to cause most of the damage with an attack from 60km which strung out the peloton. When Jungels was caught with seven kilometres to go, Stybar showed his strength in the sprint to record his second classics win of the month.
Bob Jungels efforts at E3 might not have resulted in a victory but he did get to raise his arms in victory at Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne with a sensational victory. The Luxembourg champion formed part of a five-man breakaway with over 60km remaining and whilst the remainder of that group were swallowed up by the group, Jungels managed to keep the peloton at bay despite a huge effort from BORA Hansgrohe’s Jempy Drucker to bring him back. Jungels has shown in his short career to date that he is a difficult man to bring back once he goes & this showed again.
In two of March’s significant stage races there were impressive performances to be seen too. In Paris Nice, sprinting duo Dylan Groenewegen and Sam Bennett both bagged a pair of sprint victories each to show they mean business when it comes down to the fast men. Groenewegen’s most impressive victory of the month though came later on though, when he powered to victory in the one-day classic, Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne. Perhaps the most impressive part of Groenewegen’s victory was the way in which he almost surfed through the bunch from fairly far back, past sprint rivals of the quality of Fernando Gaviria & Elia Viviani, to seal victory. In Tirreno-Adriatico, a ding-dong battle for the GC between Adam Yates and Primož Roglič saw the Slovenian win by less than one second! Both of these two have the attacking instincts to be a threat in Yorkshire come September should they get the opportunity.
The final remarkable performance of March was saved to the very last day by Alexander Kristoff with victory at Gent-Wevelgem. In a fascinating day’s racing, Kristoff eventually won the sprint from a reduced peloton but that only tells half the story as there was attack after attack all day long, including ones from Kristoff himself. Earlier on in the women’s edition, Kirsten Wild showed that she is unmatched when it comes to a bunch sprint with her trademark powerful finish sealing victory.
With more exciting racing guaranteed to come in April, we are beginning to see a picture of who is emerging as the legitimate contenders for those precious rainbow bands in Yorkshire later in the year.