If in the Paris Nice Simon Yates showed he was closer to Primoz Roglic than to the rest of the field, here, as predicted, there was absolutely nobody in the same stratosphere as Tadej Pogacar. The man just won a week-long race by almost 2 minutes. Without a summit finish longer than 5km. Seems clear that Roglic and Jumbo Visma are Pogacar’s only threat, but I must be honest: I was much more confident in a tight battle for the Tour de France crown a month ago than I am today. As for this week, the Milano Sanremo has traditionally been decided in a sprint. But the finish is preceded by two climbs. You know what that means for Pogacar…
Later in the week we will have a more detailed analysis of the Milano Sanremo. Honestly, as unlikely as it might be, I’m not sure Pogacar isn’t the favorite after seeing what I did this week from him. In addition to that, we saw some other great performances in the Tirreno Adriatico that we’ll get into detail below, as well as one rider in particular that I think everybody expected more of.
Remco Evenepoel (Quick Step)
I hope Quick Step finally realized that Evenepoel isn’t a climber. More narrowly, I hope they realized that a non-climber isn’t a good Grand Tour racer. In addition to that, it’s not clear he can even sustain a high level for 3 weeks at this stage of his career. Everybody knew that Evenepoel wouldn’t be a GC contender in last year’s Giro. Still, the Belgian team decided to send him there regardless, harming João Almeida’s chances – the rider that had already proved to be capable of leading the team.
Stage 6 was another (maybe definitive) proof of Evenepoel’s inability to deal with high, GT level, climbs. He was dropped on the first ascent of the Carpegna leaving behind his blue jersey ambitions. Evenepoel is a fantastic rider and shouldn’t be seen as any less of one for not being a climber at this stage of his career. Perhaps, at this point of his career, he should simply focus on classics and (easier) week-long stage races. When he wins everything he wants that matches that profile (which, at his pace, might be in 2 years), then re-train your body, mind, and schedule to focus on tougher stage races and GTs.
In 2020 and 2021 he is 6/6 in the weeklong stage races he finished. He’s a winning machine. Just go out, win everything you want (as he seems to be doing anyway) and think about high mountain climbs later.
Thymen Arensman (Team DSM)
The first memory I have from this rider is finishing 2nd in the 2018 Tour de l’Avenir, behind Tadej Pogacar. He was only 18 years old at the time and it was a massive result for him. Then I admit I didn’t keep up with him, until the 2020 Vuelta where he had a couple of interesting showings, especially one in the mountains that almost brought him a stage victory. I was hopeful for last year but he didn’t quite breakout as I was expecting. In essence, I was hoping for a 6th in the 2021 edition of the Tirreno Adriatico instead of in the 2022 one. That difference in timing is certainly not important though, especially when we’re talking about a rider that is still just 22 years of age.
This 6th place overall is certainly the most important result of Arensman’s career up to this point and surely put him on many people’s radars for what is left of the 2022 season and beyond.
Jai Hindley (Bora Hansgrohe)
When you win a stage and finish 2nd in the Giro at 24 years old a lot is expected from you subsequently. I certainly wouldn’t know but that seems like a fairly safe bet. Hence, Hindley’s 2021 season was a disappointment. He abandoned the Giro on stage 14 due to saddle sores which shouldn’t be held against. His best result last season was a 7th place in the Tour de Pologne. A year and a half removed from the defining performance of his career so far, I was starting to think if he had it in him to do it again. Repetition is the key to being a top-GC rider. That’s why I love João Almeida’s potential: he did it two years in a row.
Maybe I was getting too anxious about Hindley’s 2021 season, especially when it can be argued that it wasn’t his fault things didn’t go his way. Anyway, I am very happy the Australian showed he’s back with a 6th place in the Carpegna stage and a 5th place overall.
Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious)
Here is another rider that I can say I am very happy to see back but have more questions on whether he can sustain it. It can’t have been easy to see a team that was built with him as a leader flourish last season while he suffered. Landa had awful luck in the Giro for sure, but he was just a complete non-factor in the Vuelta where nothing happened to him. Of course a bad GT doesn’t mean he’s any less of an excellent rider, but the way his team bounced back without him (Caruso was 2nd in the Giro and Haig 3rd in the Vuelta) coupled with his age (32) makes me think his best years are behind him.
I don’t know how willing Bahrain will be to invest in Landa after what we saw last season from Caruso, Haig, Gino Mader and even Pello Bilbao.
With that being said, he couldn’t have done much more in this Tirreno Adriatico to show everybody that he’s still a factor. He was 3rd in the queen stage, was the only rider that followed Jonas Vingegaard there, and that was enough for a podium place at the end. He was also 3rd in this race last year so we should take this result with a grain of salt, but it’s highly unlikely that a crash at the Giro will derail his season again (please, let’s hope not). So we can only hope that this result will fuel a renaissance of the Spaniard.
Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates)
Well, this one if going to be short. I feel like I’ve done nothing over the past month but gush over this man’s ability. And rightfully so. I wouldn’t change a word. I will just say one thing: as I wrote in the preview of this race, only once since 2000 had the Tirreno Adriatico been won by more than a minute (2014, Alberto Contador over Nairo Quintana). Pogacar has done it two years in a row. In my mind, this is further proof of how much better he is than everybody else since… well, Bernard Hinault? And for that reason, I can’t wait for Saturday, March 19, to see if he makes it 2 monuments and 3 Italian WT classics in a row.