After such a busy month of March, the calendar relaxes a bit in April, as the Giro d’Italia approaches. The highlights of this month are certainly the Paris Roubaix and the Liége Bastogne Liége, on the 17th and 24, respectively. There I still plenty of entertaining racing before we get there though. The 2022 Tour of the Basque Country is at its halfway point, and the Amstel Gold Race takes place in just a few days, on the 10th. The preview of the Amstel will be posted tomorrow, so today I just wanted to speak a bit about this edition of the Tour of the Basque Country. As the people of Spain demand, Spanish stage races (especially the most important ones) have to include healthy doses of climbing. This is extra true for a race that takes place in the beautiful Basque Country.
The race is already at its halfway point, but the most important days are undoubtedly still to come. So far, some conclusions can be taken mainly about who won’t be fighting for victory on Saturday. The biggest surprise of this lot is Sergio Higuita. The Colombian has put together a fantastic season so far, winning the national championship before he recently added the Vuelta a Catalunya to his trophy case. That was, by far, the most important victory of his career. It made everyone think he would show up in the 2022 Tour of the Basque Country to try and take his second consecutive victory in a Spanish stage-race.
That clearly wasn’t meant to happen, with the Colombian arriving second to last yesterday. According to a Colombian source, the disappointing performance happened due to a mechanical problem and not necessarily lack of physical ability. Let’s look to the next few days – now that Higuita isn’t a GC contender anymore, he’ll have more freedom to capture a stage victory.
Unlike Higuita, I couldn’t find any source explaining Emmanuel Buchmann’s less than stellar performance. He wasn’t as bad to be fair, coming in in 22nd place. Still, the German has never been the same since 2019. And I’m not only saying this because of his 4th place in the Tour. That year he was 3rd in this race, 3rd in the Dauphiné, 8th in the Lombardia, among other important results. He hasn’t had a result as notable as an 8th in Il Lombardia in almost two and a half years. The rope is about to break for a rider that is 29 years old without a major result in a long time.
Something similar is happening with Tao Geoghegan Hart. He hasn’t been the same rider that won the 2020 Giro d’Italia. His most notable result in the subsequent 1.5 years is a 2nd place in a stage in the Dauphiné where he quite frankly displayed a sensational sustained acceleration that almost gave him the stage win. Only Alejandro Valverde was able to catch up to him. It’s true that his 2021 was derailed by crashes but it’s also true that more is expected from a Grand Tour (GT) winner. It’s going to be difficult to break into Ineos’ contingent of Richard Carapaz, Adam Yates, and Daniel Martinez for Grand Tours in 2022. All three of those riders deserve opportunities to lead the team in GTs. Hart has the advantage of being a local rider, something invaluable in cycling, but Ineos’ wants to win whether it be through British riders or not.
Staying on the topic of underperforming young Brits let’s move on to James Knox. The Quick Step product finish 11th an 14th the 2019 Vuelta and subsequent 2020 Giro, respectively. He was 11th in a GT at just 23 years of age. I expected a jump from him into the top-10 by this point, but the truth is that he hasn’t been able to put it all together. In GTs or otherwise. He’s younger than Geoghegan Hart (which was surprising to me) so, at just 26 years old, he still has plenty of time to fulfill everybody’s expectations.
Michael Woods and Gino Mader are also out of the fight for GC. Both riders had a really good 2021 and their underperformance here should be circumstantial. The first has experienced stomach issues after his great start in the Gran Camino (2nd), earlier in the season. Woods was hoping to find his legs in the Basque Country, presumably to be a threat in the hilly classics that are just around the corner. He arrived inside of the second group yesterday which takes him out of the fight for the overall classification, but hopefully is a positive sign for the Canadian’s season.
Mader’s teammate, Pello Bilbao just won stage 3 and is right in the thick of things for the GC. Hence, I don’t the Swiss rider is too disappointed with his own performance given that his team is thriving. Still, he’s teammates with two GT podium finishers in 2021 (Damiano Caruso and Jack Haig) plus Mikel Landa and Pello Bilbao himself. Bahrain (much like Ineos with the exception of Richard Carapaz) has a lot of GT contenders without anyone clearly a cut above the rest. Performances like the one from yesterday (78th) won’t put Mader above the rest, despite him being, in my opinion, the best GT option Bahrain has for 2022 and beyond.
As you’ve certainly noticed I have merely pointed out who is out of the race for the yellow jersey. I didn’t mention the 10-15 riders that are still very much in the race for the 2022 Tour of the Basque Country. I know better than trying to pick the winner of a race in which every stage is a potential queen stage. Everything can change every day and what is true today isn’t tomorrow. With that being said, keep an eye on Dani Martínez. Picking Roglic would have been too boring. The Colombian was the only rider to stay with Roglic on the Col du Turini in the Paris Nice and has all the tools to do the same (or better) here. After Higuita’s victory in Catalunya it’d be another incredible victory for Colombia if Martínez pulls it off.