Eleven days have passed since the overview of February’s calendar was posted and plenty has happened in this week and a half. I am not going to detail all the race results because there are certainly more complete places for that. Here you can see detailed results for each race.
With that being said, let’s get into what happened in the first half of February!
Belgian youngster Maxim Van Gils won the race after winning the queen stage. It wasn’t a mountain finish but the finish line was just 9km after the most difficult climb of the entire Tour: 2.9km at 12% average gradient. The level of competition in the race wasn’t very high (highlighted by the fact that Luka Mezgec, a sprinter, got over that climb to claim 2nd place in the queen stage of the race) but you can only beat who’s in front of you, as the saying goes, and Van Gils did just that. The young 22-year-old had previously been 7th in the 2021 Tour of Wallonie and 3rd in the 2020 Tour de Savoie. The Saudi Tour victory is by far the biggest of his career so far and gives Lotto Soudal valuable ranking points. Keep this young Belgian’s name in mind because he is developing into a really good rider.
Dylan Groenewegen won two stages, a good sign for the maligned Dutch rider. I believed from the start this was a great signing by BikeExchange and he certainly is starting out well.
Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana
After Remco Evenepoel’s stage win at the start of this competition everything seemed set for another young Belgian to win another early season stage race. Bora’s new signing, Aleksandr Vlasov, had other ideas. After coming 2nd on the first stage to Evenepoel, the Russian beat everybody on his way to claim the queen stage of the race atop the Antenas del Maigmó. Another youngster shined in Valencia, a Spaniard named Carlos Rodriguez, from Ineos. Only Vlasov beat him in the queen stage, which was enough to propel him to third place overall, in a race contested by some of the biggest names in the peloton. Just for reference, the three riders behind Rodriguez in GC were: Enric Mas, Alejandro Valverde, and Jakob Fuglsang.
A bright future awaits Rodriguez, runner-up of the 2021 Tour de L’Avenir, 4th place in the 2021 Ruta del Sol, and bronze medalist in the 2021 Spanish ITT championships. He will become more than a promise in 2021.
Fabio Jakobsen, winner of two stages, is building his case as Quick Step’s main sprinter for the Tour.
Etoile de Bessèges
This year’s Etoile de Bessèges was won by French time trial champion Benjamin Thomas of Cofidis. He was the most consistent rider at the race which is usually enough to win it. Alberto Bettiol came in second. The loss to the Frenchman in stage 3 and his lower time-trial prowess meant that the EF Education rider couldn’t overcome Thomas in the general classification.
Once again, at this race, there is another young rider to note, this time the reigning Tour de L’Avenir champion, Tobias Halland Johannessen. He climbed on the lowest step of the podium at this race and took home a stage win, which is a great sign for the future. His time trial still needs work but, much like his Tour de L’Avenir foe last year, Carlos Rodriguez, he has all the tools to breakout during 2022.
Tour de la Provence
Filippo Ganna and Bryan Coquard went from winning in the Etoile de Bessèges to winning in the Tour de la Provence. Elia Viviani also won for the first time in Ineos’ colors. Nairo Quintana, however, was the king of the race, winning it for the second time. This is the third time in a row a Colombian wins this mountainous French stage race: Quintana himself did it in his first year with Arkea (2020) and Ivan Sosa, now with Movistar, did it last year.
As predicted, the Montagne de Lure would decide everything and, to no one’s surprise, it did. The top-3 on that stage were in the top-4 of the GC: Quintana, Mattias Skjelmose Jensen (Trek), and Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar). Only the world champion, Julian Alaphilippe (7th on the final stage), positioned himself between those riders, finishing 2nd in GC.
Jensen and Jorgenson are just 21 and 22 years old, respectively, but despite their young age they are not unknown riders, at this point. Both have top-10 in World Tour level stage races despite their young age: Jenson was 6th in last year’s UAE Tour, and Jorgenson was 8th in last year’s Paris Nice. Both are showing excellent form to repeat or even improve upon those performances this year.
Vuelta a Murcia & Clasica de Almeria
UAE Team Emirates showed their strength in numbers at the 2022 Vuelta a Murcia. Right after Brandon McNulty was caught with 5km to go, Alessandro Covi (another name to keep in mind for the future) broke away from the small peloton hat was leading the race. Arkea Samsic tried to get everyone to the line for Matis Louvel but they just didn’t have the numbers to commit to such a chase, and Covi managed to hang on to his tiny lead, crossing the line 1 second before the small group behind. His teammate Matteo Trentin was 2nd, proving that the victory would go home with UAE Team Emirates even if Covi had been caught. Arkea Samsic and Louvel had to accept the bronze medal as a consolation prize.
The Emirati team was less lucky in another region of Spain. At Almeria, despite working hard for Juan Sebastian Molano, it was the former world champion, and new acquisition of Intermaché Wanty, Alexander Kristoff, that came out victorious. There is not much to say about this race, it progressed like a usual sprinters’ stage in a Grand Tour: the breakaway was caught with 20km to go, a lot of teams were interested in a bunch sprint, and, in the end, Intermarché did a great job to position Kristoff at the front before the last bend, and the Norwegian didn’t disappoint.
Tour of Oman
Despite it not being over yet, the winner is already decided, in my opinion. And it’s Jan Hirt, a Czech rider from Intermarché. He won the queen stage (stage 5) of the race today and took the red jersey from Fausto Masnada, winner of yesterday’s stage. The Italian seemed poised to win the general classification after putting more than a minute on everybody yesterday, but today’s fantastic work by Hirt’s teammates together with the high degree of difficulty of the final climb, allowed the Czech to gain nearly 2 minutes on the Italian, erasing the 1-minute deficit he started the day with.
After being seen as a promising rider in the mid-2010s, Hirt achieves the biggest win of his career in 2022 (depending on how you feel about the 2016 Tour of Austria vs the 2022 Tour of Oman) and certainly his best result since the 12th place in the 2017 Giro.
Colombia – Sergio Higuita – it’s been a fantastic two weeks for two of Bora’s marquee signings for 2022. After Vlasov’s Vuelta a Comunidad Valenciana win, Higuita became Colombian champion for the second time after 2020.
New Zealand – James Fouché – from the local Bolton Equities team, Fouché becomes the champion of New Zealand for the second time in his still young career (the first time was in 2019).
South Africa – Reinardt Janse van Rensburg – last year he rode for Team Qhubeka NextHash. Van Rensburg becomes South African champion for the second time in his career, 5 years after his first win, in 2017.
Namibia – Drikus Coetzee – a rider that mainly competes in African races, repeat as Namibian road champion. He was his country representative in the 2019 world championship road race and time trial.
As the reader probably noticed, all four national champions crowned this week (all from very different countries, too) did so for the second time in their careers. I wonder what the odds for such an outcomes would have been a week ago.
Recently Bernal posted a video on his Instagram of himself walking without help after the gruesome accident he suffered. Kepp fighting champ! We’re all with you!