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The 2022 Spring Classics came to a close on Sunday at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but before we close the book on the cobbles and climbs, we wanted to take stock of what we learned from this years Classics campaign – and what a Classics campaign it was.
From Wout van Aert’s imperious win at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad through to Remco Evenepoel’s long-range strike at Liège, the Classics featured no shortage of daring moves by big names. In some cases, new talents emerged as riders we’ll likely be watching for years to come. In other cases, there were stars and teams that fell short of expectations.
Assuming you’ve already taken a look at Abby Mickey’s rundown of takeaways from the women’s racing this spring, here are five things we’re taking away from the 2022 men’s Classics campaign.
Fortune favors the bold
The old Latin proverb proved true this spring, and not just on the Via Roma. Of the 12 WorldTour one-days contested so far in 2022, only one came down to a sizable sprint. The rest went to solo attackers or small groups who rolled the dice on late moves and were rewarded with big results. Say what you will about the controlled style of racing that has come to dominate Grand Tours this decade, but the Classics are all about decisive attacks right now.
Tadej Pogačar went from afar at Strade Bianche even though the final wall into Siena favors him just fine anyway. Wout van Aert may be one of the fastest finishers in the pro peloton, but he didn’t wait for others to light up the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the E3 Saxo Bank Classic. Milan-San Remo used to be the big opportunity for the sprinters to take a Monument title, but Matej Mohorič put another nail in that coffin this spring. Biniam Girmay used his finishing kick to win Gent-Wevelgem, but only after a lengthy trip out front in an attacking quartet. Mathieu van der Poel, Dylan van Baarle, Michael Kwiatkowski, and Remco Evenepoel all relied on solo or small group moves from afar to take their big Classics wins as well.
Whether it is team sizes at the races (where seven-rider squads replaced eight-rider squads a few years back), a deeper talent pool at the top, or a preference for attacking among the rising Classics stars that have displaced the big names of the previous decade, aggressive riding is all the rage in the spring these days, and the races are all the better for it.
Mathieu van der Poel is as good as we thought he was
The 27-year-old superstar missed the early part of the 2022 Classics campaign as he recovered from the back issues that bothered him through much of last season. The lack of a traditional slate of build-up races, however, did not seem to bother him. He landed on the podium at Milan-San Remo and won Dwars door Vlaanderen and the Tour of Flanders, both results marking his second career wins in each race.
The absence of Wout van Aert – who was sidelined by COVID-19 positive – at Flanders should not take away from what Van der Poel was able to accomplish there. All eyes were on the 27-year-old Dutchman, whose Alpecin-Fenix team did not have quite the same amount firepower as some of its rivals, and he still managed to win in much the same way that he won the race in 2020.
He may not have won any new big races this year, but securing second victories at two big Classics represents a major milestone for Van der Poel. How many young stars have we seen shine brightly en route to a big early win only to fade without ever repeating their early successes? Van der Poel has shown that he can deliver even when he has a big target on your back, and that’s an ability that will serve him well moving forward into what should be his physical prime.
Tadej Pogačar won’t win everything, but he can win practically anything
In a season that saw him make his first real foray into the cobbled Classics, Tadej Pogačar rode through both highs and lows. For us, the enduring takeaway from his spring campaign was that while he showed that he is human after all, he also proved that he can be a contender for practically any objective he sets his mind to.
He destroyed the competition at Strade Bianche, and then (after winning Tirreno-Adriatico) he rattled off top 10s at Milan-San Remo, Dwars door Vlaanderen, and the Tour of Flanders – which he came close to winning outright. The cobbled climbs in and around Oudenaarde may not seem particularly well-suited to his Grand Tour-winning talents, but Pogačar did not seem to have any trouble doing his thing on the Paterberg or the Oude Kwaremont, despite never having raced Flanders before. UAE does not have a particularly strong squad for the cobbled Classics, but Pogačar is a one-man wrecking crew.
In the end, he was unable to drop Mathieu van der Poel and then dropped to fourth after a cat-and-mouse finale and a botched sprint, but it was a pretty thin line between fourth and first for Pogačar in his Flanders debut. Imagine what he can do in the future with some experience under his belt.
Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl may need to go back to the drawing board for the Cobbled Classics
Patrick Lefevere’s team enjoyed plenty of success on the pavé over the past few seasons, routinely divvying up multiple big wins among several different riders. Things didn’t really go according to plan for the team this season.
For the first time since 2016 – when there were far fewer spring one-days on the WorldTour calendar – Quick-Step did not win a single top-division race on the cobbles. Honestly, the team didn’t really even come close on the pavé. It’s hard to overstate just how dramatic the team’s change of fortunes was after Kasper Asgreen established himself as a star at the helm of a deep Classics roster over the past two years.
It’s also hard to say just what went wrong. Form seemed to be the main culprit, as time and again from the Omloop through to Roubaix, Quick-Step just wasn’t putting big names at the front, with the exception of Asgreen’s third-place finish at Strade Bianche. Asgreen himself did not appear to have quite the same strength that he showed in 2021, and behind him, the rest of the team looked flat from February through mid-April.
Fortunately for Quick-Step fans, Remco Evenepoel came through with a fantastic victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and in Evenepoel and Julian Alaphilippe (assuming he recovers fully from his injuries), the team should be contending for Ardennes wins for years to come. On the team’s truly favored terrain, however, Quick-Step may have to go back to the drawing board – or potentially add a name or two this transfer season – to keep up with Van der Poel, Jumbo-Visma, and emergent Ineos. Speaking of which …
The Ineos Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma have depth to spare
As Quick-Step’s fortunes fell this spring, other teams emerged. The Ineos Grenadiers, who placed no fewer than six riders into WorldTour top 10s this Classics campaign and won the Amstel Gold Race and Paris-Roubaix, led the way. Where past seasons seemed to pit Quick-Step against big names with less powerful teams backing them (like Van Aert, Van der Poel, and Pidcock), some of those rival squads really stepped it up in 2022.
Pidcock seemed the likeliest Ineos rider to come away with a big win going into this Classics season, and the Olympic mountain bike champ put in some solid results, but it was Dylan van Baarle who really stole the show, riding to second at the Tour of Flanders and winning Paris-Roubaix. An incredibly versatile rider, Van Baarle has survived well into the high-mountains as a strong domestique for Ineos at the Grand Tours, but he found a new level of success using his big engine on the cobbles thing spring. Jhonatan Narváez and Magnus Sheffield also emerged as riders to watch in the spring, while Michal Kwiatkowski found some of the magic of days past en route to a win at the Amstel Gold Race.
To a lesser extent, Jumbo-Visma also took steps forward in the depth department this past Classics season. The team was always going to be fighting for results thanks to Wout van Aert, but transfer season signees Christophe Laporte and Tiesj Benoot came up big for the Dutch outfit, giving the team reason to be optimistic for future seasons when Van Aert, when the team will hopefully be able to rely on all three at the Tour of Flanders and beyond.
And now? The focus of the pro peloton and the people who cover it will shift to a different sort of race entirely. With the Tour de Romandie underway as we speak, the Giro d’Italia is now less than two weeks away.
Bring on the Grand Tours!