Evidently, nobody learned anything from Il Lombardia last year. The man can AND WILL leave everybody behind dozens of kilometers from the finish. No, you won’t catch him. And if you do, he’ll probably beat you anyway.
Last Saturday we witnessed one of the best ever, once again, doing what he wanted on a major classic. It looked like it was routine for him. Like he looked at the route, marked the point of attack, attacked, and won. I’m sure it didn’t happen just like that but the mean attacked once! Once! 50km from the line. It wasn’t even on a climb, he opened up a gap on a descent. And nearly was caught too a kilometer after the start of his adventure. But clearly being reeled in wasn’t in his plans because he just kept pushing on until he was truly alone. Which didn’t take long because nobody could follow him.
Carlos Rodriguez, from Ineos Grenadiers, bravely tried to fulfill the role Fausto Masnada did at Il Lombardia last year but it seems like Pogacar didn’t appreciate that experience because he decided to ride 100% solo this time. Rodriguez never caught up to the Slovenian being eventually caught by the main chasing group. The lead was already at 25 seconds with 47.5km to go. Later, at roughly 1m30s at the halfway point between Pogacar’s attack and the finish. And by that point the reigning Tour de France champion simply managed the advantage well enough to cross the line 36 seconds in front of Alejandro Valverde.
Well, since the story of the winner is that of a rider seemingly competing alone, let’s move to the actually interesting parts of the race. While Pogacar was time trialing to victory, the chasers eventually managed to get organized in pursuit with Quick Step, Movistar and Trek Segafredo leading the chase. This organization came to late to reel in the eventual winner, but not too late to provide an entertaining fight for the podium. At about the 20km from the end mark, Kasper Asgreen attacked in the bunch, followed by Quinn Simmons (Trek Segafredo), Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal), Jonathan Narvaez (Ineos), and the eternal Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). Alaphilippe, that had fallen earlier in the race, was dropped at this point. Simmons, Wellens, and Narvaez would eventually be caught by Attila Valter (Groupama-FDJ) and Pello Bilbao (Bahrain).
Those are the riders that I want to talk about: Simmons, Narvaez, Valter, and Valverde. Quin Simmons is 20 years old. He’s not “in his 20s” or a “promising young rider”. He’s 20. He’s one Clasica de San Sebastian away from being Remco Evenepoel. Maybe that’s going too far but an overall victory in the Tour de Wallonie months after he turned 20 is an incredibly impressive achievement. His performance on Saturday was fantastic as well. These results would be “promising” at 23. At 20, we might be seeing a future legend.
Valter and Narvaez are on a different rung of the ladder, in my opinion, but I was still very happy for their performances. Let’s not forget that Valter was 14th in last year’s Giro at 22 and finished the year in an honorable 12th place at Il Lombardia. A 4th place finish in the Strade Bianche, his best WT result to date, is extremely encouraging. The same can be said for Narvaez, on a different level. After a very promising 2020, he never found his form in 2021. A 6th place here is great for the complete Ecuadorian.
Finally, Alejandro Valverde. What more can you say? He inspires the same speechless-ness that Tadej Pogacar, for different reasons, at this stage of his career. At 41 years of age, he just arrived at a tough World Tour classic, and beat nearly all of the youngsters coming for his place. I’ll say the same thing I said when Tom Brady retired this offseason: selfishly, it sucks that he’s made that decision because he’s still one of the best.
P.S.: Looks like 2022 picked right up where 2021 left off. Tadej Pogacar wins what he wants. Jumbo Visma wins what he wants. The Dutch team just did a 1-2-3 in the first stage of the Paris-Nice. No it wasn’t a team time trial. Well… I mean… The organization of the race didn’t count on the stage being a team time trial. That’s a better way to put it.