From ‘opening weekend’ to Paris-Roubaix: Ranking the cobbled classics contenders

From Mathieu van der Poel and Lotte Kopecky to Elisa Longo Borghini and Dylan van Baarle. VeloNews rates the cobbled classics contenders.

Photo: Etienne Garnier - Pool/Getty Images

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For another year, the cobbled classics are over.

The cobblestone season was extended somewhat thanks to the French presidential elections forcing Paris-Roubaix to swap weekends with the Amstel Gold Race. However, good things must come to an end and last weekend’s “Hell of the North” doubleheader marked the conclusion of yet another thrilling spring on the cobbles of Belgium, France, and the Netherlands.

Part of the thrill of the cobbled classics is the unpredictability that they often provoke. Even the best in the bunch can see a career-defining result scuppered by misfortune at the most inopportune of moments.

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As ever, the 2022 season on the stones saw some riders shine while others will not look back on it with fondness. This year more than ever, the specter of COVID-19 hung over the riders with several big names seeing their hopes dashed by the virus.

With all that said and done, who were those that will smile when they think of 2022 and who will hope to forget it?

VeloNews takes a look back on this year’s cobbled classics and rates how some of the biggest names in the men’s and women’s pelotons fared. Despite making a fleeting appearance at the cobbled classics, Tadej Pogačar is not on this list, but he added a little extra spice to the spring.

Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix)

Highlight: Winning the Tour of Flanders

Summary: Mathieu van der Poel’s appearance at this year’s classics was in doubt in the early weeks of the season as he continued his recovery from a lingering back injury. After making a surprise return to the peloton at Milan-San Remo, where he finished third, he was soon back to winning ways. His victory in his cobbles comeback at Dwars door Vlaanderen was a sign that he was coming in hot.

Van der Poel’s win at the Flanders came after one of the rides of his career. His classics season ended with a bit of an anticlimax as he struggled at Paris-Roubaix, but that won’t sour what was ultimately a superb spring season.

Rating: 8/10

Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo)

Highlight: Winning Paris-Roubaix

Summary: Struggling with sinusitis for much of the spring, which forced her to skip several major races, Elisa Longo Borghini’s spring had little to write home about until this weekend. Instead, following her top-10 at Strade Bianche, she spent much of March riding for her teammates, particularly Elisa Balsamo. Such was her form that Longo Borghini didn’t think she deserved a start at Paris-Roubaix, but her team believed in her and she was on the start in Denain. The team’s faith was repaid with a big solo break to win the second edition of the “Hell of the North” and keep the title in the Trek-Segafredo family for another year.

Rating: 7/10

Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma)

Highlight: Winning E3 Saxo Bank Classic and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Summary: For much of the spring classics, Wout van Aert was the man to beat and his Jumbo-Visma squad had a stranglehold on the cobbles. After a successful cyclocross season over the winter, Van Aert kick-started his road campaign with a dominant win at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Another rampant victory at the “mini-Flanders” that is the E3 Saxo Bank Classic was an ominous message to his rivals. However, his spring classics were derailed when he tested positive for COVID-19 just days before De Ronde. He returned to the pack for Paris-Roubaix, where he secured an impressive second place considering his two-week layoff.

Rating: 7/10

Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx)

Highlight: Winning the Tour of Flanders

Summary: Lotte Kopecky was undoubtedly the star of this year’s classics campaign. She had a difficult start at the opening weekend at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Omloop van het Hageland, but she turned things around in March after winning at Strade Bianche. Her return to the cobbles at the Ronde van Drenthe brought a third-place and she racked up another podium at Nokere Koerse. She needed something a little bit tougher to show her real strengths and that came with her emphatic win at the Tour of Flanders. She was the hot favorite for Paris-Roubaix and could well have won it but for some odd tactics from SD Worx.

Rating: 9/10

Dylan van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers)

Highlight: Winning Paris-Roubaix

Summary: Dylan van Baarle wasn’t on the list of five-star favorites ahead of this weekend’s Paris-Roubaix but he had made his case for favorite status with a strong classics campaign. Often seen as the support act to some of the bigger names in his team, Van Baarle has been one of its best performers on the cobbles in 2022 with eighth at E3 followed by a second place at the Tour of Flanders. He expertly navigated the chaos of Paris-Roubaix to emerge victorious in the velodrome, the cherry on the cake of a strong spring season.

Rating: 8/10

Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar)

Highlight: Winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, 2nd at the Tour of Flanders

Summary: After her domination during her brief visit to the cobbles at last year’s classics, the expectations were always going to be pretty high for Annemiek van Vleuten. She started her classics in some style with victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad following a brilliant tactical sprint against Demi Vollering. She wasn’t able to crack her rivals in the same way when she returned to the pavé at the end of March. Though she ditched most riders, she could not shake Kopecky at Flanders and was unable to outdo her in the sprint as she had done with her teammate Vollering just over a month earlier. Still, it was a solid — if short — spring campaign for the Dutch rider.

Rating: 6.5/10

Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert)

Highlight: Winning Gent-Wevelgem

Summary: Biniam Girmay has been quickly making a name for himself since stepping up to WorldTour level mid-way through last year, but he was still an unknown quantity in the cobbled classics. In a short but successful stint on the cobbles, he quickly showed that he has the talent, and skills, to become a top cobbles rider in the future. Despite not knowing the courses, he raced to a hugely impressive fifth place at E3 Saxo Bank Classic. The result was such that his team decided to add Gent-Wevelgem to his program, a decision that proved very wise as he sprinted to victory at the one-day race. Despite the success, he couldn’t be tempted to stick around for the cobbled monuments, so we’ll have to wait another year at least to see how he does.

Rating: 7/10

Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo)

Highlight: Winning Gent-Wevelgem

Summary: Elisa Balsamo’s cobbled season started well but it ended in controversy last weekend. With her second place at the Ronde van Drenthe followed by a string of victories in March, she became one of the most talked-about riders in the bunch. However, the hills of the Tour of Flanders proved too much for her in what would ultimately be a difficult day for the Trek-Segafredo squad. Paris-Roubaix looked like a better opportunity for the world champion, but her chances of any result were dealt a fatal blow when she was disqualified for a “sticky bottle” as she returned to the bunch following a mechanical.

Rating: 6.5/10

Peter Sagan (Team TotalEnergies)

Highlight: 68th at E3 Saxo Bank Classic

Summary: After a slow start to the season, Peter Sagan went into the cobbled classics with relatively low expectations, but his performances on the pavé may have even failed to reach those. One a red-hot favorite at all of the cobbled races, Sagan has been struggling all season and a 68th place at the E3 Saxo Bank Classic, where he finished more than 11 minutes behind Van Aert, was the best he could glean from this spring. Following a DNF at Gent-Wevelgem, Sagan decided to pull out of the Tour of Flanders and wouldn’t return for Paris-Roubaix as he and the team try to get to the bottom of what ails him. Let’s hope there is an answer, and we may see a resurgent Sagan back at the classics in 2023.

Rating: 1/10

Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma)

Highlight: 2nd at Gent-Wevelgem

Summary: Marianne Vos made a late start to the road season following a long break after winning the cyclocross world title in January. After kick-starting her year at Strade Bianche, she made her first appearance on the cobbles at Gent-Wevelgem. Her second-place showed she was in good form, but she seemed to be missing the spark she needed at the Tour of Flanders and could only manage 20th place. Nevertheless, Paris-Roubaix was on the horizon for her. However, her chance of redemption was foiled when she tested positive for COVID-19 the morning of the race and had to pull out.

Rating: 4/10

Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-Victorious)

Highlight: 4th at E3 Saxo Bank Classic, 5th at Paris-Roubaix

Summary: After three years away from the cobbles, Matej Mohorič made an emphatic return this season. It wasn’t just a fleeting visit for the Slovenian as he racked up a solid block on the cobbles, beginning with the opening weekend. After a tentative reunion with the cobbles in February, he returned in earnest the following month after scoring a big win at Milan-San Remo. Mohorič was never afraid to have a go and got well stuck in with the top cobbles riders, notching up some top results in the process. His only misstep was an off-day at De Ronde, where he rode home in 21st place.

Ranking: 6.5/10

Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (SD Worx)

Highlight: 3rd at the Tour of Flanders

Summary: SD Worx is a team that comes with plenty of key contenders for any race that it lines up at. However, Chantal van den Broek-Blaak has proved herself as perhaps the top cobbles contender behind Kopecky this season. She has been a key component in many of Kopecky’s successes and taken with her some solid results, such as the third place at the Tour of Flanders. Her spring ended with a little bit of a down note after she went into Paris-Roubaix as SD Worx’s intended leader. She rode well for much of the race, but lacked the punch she needed when Longo Borghini made her attack.

Ranking: 6/10

Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers)

Highlight: 3rd at Dwars door Vlaanderen

Summary: Tom Pidcock was one of the focal points for the Ineos team in the early part of the classics. It proved to be a steep learning curve for the 22-year-old racing just his second cobbles campaign but there were some definite highlights for him, including a podium place at Dwars door Vlaanderen. There are always high expectations placed on Pidcock, which is no surprise given some of his performances, but he’s still young and his results are moving in the right direction.

Rating: 5.5/10

Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM)

Highlight: Wins at Ronde van Drenthe, Nokere Koerse, and Scheldeprijs

Summary: There are few people who can beat Lorena Wiebes in a straight dash to the line and she proved to be one of the fastest in the pack yet again this spring with dominant wins at the Ronde van Drenthe, Nokere Koerse, and Scheldeprijs. She suffered some bad luck with a broken spoke at Brugge-De Panne, though she still managed second, and crashed out of Gent-Wevelgem. It was still a season with plenty to write home about and lots to build on.

Rating: 6.5/10

Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ)

Highlight: 3rd at E3 Saxo Bank Classic, 3rd at Paris-Roubaix

Summary: Stefan Küng has long been the nearly-man of the cobbled classics but this season saw him largely shake off that moniker. Though he didn’t take home a victory this spring, he racked up some of his best results in the northern classics. It started with a podium place at the E3 Saxo Bank Classic, with a well-timed late attack to jump the chase group. That result seemed to unleash a new, more confident Küng and he enjoyed the best spring of his career, which was capped off with another big podium finish at Paris-Roubaix.

Rating: 7/10

Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo)

Highlight: 7th at Paris-Roubaix

Summary: Ellen van Dijk’s performances this spring would be better measured by her teammate’s results than her own, given how much work she put in for them over the spring. A strong rider in her own right, she’s not European champion for nothing, Van Dijk put in some huge performances on the cobbles to manage the peloton and neutralize dangerous breaks, and she did that to near perfection in most races. She was a key performer in Longo Borghini’s Roubaix win last weekend and rode away with a seventh-place for herself.

Rating: 7/10

Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo)

Highlight: 4th at Gent-Wevelgem, 7th at Paris-Roubaix

Summary: Jasper Stuyven’s spring was nearly derailed by illness, like so many others in the bunch. He decided to skip the defense of his Milan-San Remo title in a bid to keep himself fresh for the cobbles. It didn’t appear that the short illness had taken too much from him when he finished ninth at Brugge De Panne, but he struggled to match the pace of the top riders when it came to the hillier stuff at E3 and again at the Tour of Flanders. Bad luck played a big role for him too, particularly at Paris-Roubaix when he appeared to have found his top form. A puncture at the wrong moment meant seventh ended up being the best he could hope for.

Rating: 5.5/10

Marta Bastianelli (UAE Team ADQ)

Highlight: Winning Omloop van het Hageland

Summary: In her final season as a professional, Marta Bastianelli began with a bang. Her first visit to the cobbles came at opening weekend where she took ninth at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and followed that up with a strong win at Omloop van het Hageland. She didn’t take another win during the spring, but she remained consistent throughout and racked up a string of top-10 places. She was in a strong break at Paris-Roubaix and looked strong for much of the race, though she ultimately ended up in 15th in the shuffle of attacks toward the end.

Rating: 6/10

Kasper Asgreen (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl)

Highlight: 10th at E3 Saxo Bank Classic

Summary: With illness and injury taking chunks out of Quick-Step’s classics squad, much of the pressure for success fell on Kasper Asgreen. However, the Dane had also been ill earlier in the season with COVID-19 and he would struggle to reach the form that took him to Flanders victory 12 months previous. In the end, the best that Asgreen was able to take from the spring was a top 10 at E3. There was some bad luck for Asgreen with a mechanical and a crash hampering him at both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, but they only compounded what was a difficult classics for the whole squad.

Rating: 4.5/10

Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM)

Highlight: 8th at the Tour of Flanders

Summary: After a strong start to the season, things looked promising for Kasia Niewiadoma at the classics. However, she caught Covid soon after Strade Bianche and her spring would be thrown in the air. Despite the setback, she maintained her ever-aggressive style of racing and was never afraid to have a go. Niewiadoma hung on in a super-aggressive finale to the Tour of Flanders to cap her short cobbles campaign off with an eighth place. She’d have liked more but it sets her up nicely ahead of the Ardennes classics.

Rating: 5/10

Greg Van Avermaet (Ag2r-Citroën)

Highlight: 3rd Omloop Het Niewsblad

Summary: Greg Van Avermaet’s classics campaign started off with some promise after a third place at Omloop Het Niewsblad. However, it hit the skids in the latter part of March as he failed to break the top 10 at all in the remaining cobbled classics. There were some sightings of Van Avermaet during the spring, but they were few and far between. Ultimately, it was a difficult classics for the Ag2r-Citroën team with Oliver Naesen also having difficulties.

Rating: 3/10

Emma Norsgaard (Movistar)

Highlight: Winning Le Samyn

Summary: Emma Norsgaard rode a solid, if not spectacular, spring campaign this year. The Danish rider notched up a win at Le Samyn des Dames, a week after hitting the podium at Omloop van Het Hageland. She backed up top-10 placings in the first part of the season with a best-ever finish of 13 at the Tour of Flanders. Though she was not able to top her sixth from last year’s Paris-Roubaix, finishing 11th in the end, it was still a solid ride. Still just 22, Norsgaard has plenty of room for improvement and there’s some good stuff from this year to build on.

Rating: 5.5/10

Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo)

Highlight: 7th at Gent-Wevelgem, 8th at the Tour of Flanders

Summary: With wins at Paris-Nice, Circuit Sarthe, and Etoile de Bessèges, Mads Pedersen looked in top shape for the classics, but it didn’t quite come through in the final results. Eighth at the Tour of Flanders, 48 seconds behind Van der Poel, was his best result on the cobbles. Like his teammate Stuyven, there was plenty of bad luck to get in his way. Paris-Roubaix may have been a chance to turn things around, but crashes and punctures saw to it that he wouldn’t finish the race.

Rating: 5/10

Floortje Mackaij (Team DSM)

Highlight: 6th at Paris-Roubaix Femmes, 3rd at Omloop van het Hageland

Summary: Floortje Mackaij flew under the radar a little bit during this spring, perhaps overshadowed by some of the bigger names in the peloton. However, she rode a hugely consistent spring and played a very active role across the whole cobbled classics. Though it didn’t always work out for her, a sixth-place at Paris-Roubaix last weekend was a just reward for the work she put in during the spring.

Rating: 5.5/10

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