Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert among best riders of spring Classics – but what about biggest disappointments?
Remco Evenepoel may have spared Quick-Step’s blushes after his emphatic Liege-Bastogne-Liege victory on Sunday – but does the Belgian tyro make our list of top riders from the spring Classics? We look at the top 10 male riders, the top five female riders, the stand-out moments and biggest disappointments from the Monuments and major Classics.
Highlights: Brilliant Evenepoel solos to victory, Alaphilippe in ‘disaster’ crash
On the whole, Quick-Step – and even more so, their Belgian counterparts Lotto Soudal – had a dire spring, but the whole period clearly benefitted from there being no single dominant rider or team. Ineos Grenadiers emerged as a whopping Classics force to be reckoned with – but they didn’t dominate the entire block of one-day races in the same way that the Sky team of old monopolised the annual pursuit of yellow in the Tour de France.
And while Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel were once again right at the top of the pack, both aces had their campaigns momentarily curtailed by illness, fatigue or a late return to action. The real winners were the fans, who were treated to some superb, full-on racing from a bunch of riders boasting so many huge talents and attacking livewires.
'Oh what a finale!' - Watch the narrow finish to the men's Amstel Gold that Kwiatkowski edged
Such was the calibre of performances than there’s no place in the top 10 for Amstel Gold winner Michal Kwiatkowski (Ineos Grenadiers), the Scheldeprijs solo star Alexander Kristoff (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert), and the new Classics Mr Dependable, the Frenchman Christophe Laporte, who finished runner-up in both E3 and Gent-Wevelgem in his first spring at Jumbo-Visma. Benoit Cosnefroy (Ag2R-Citroen) also took back-to-back bridesmaid’s bouquets at Amstel Gold and De Brabantse Pijl but misses out here thanks to another photo-finish.
And for all the wonderful wins and audacious attacks, perhaps the most memorable moment of the entire spring was the selfless gesture of Romain Bardet shelving his own Liege-Bastogne-Liege chances to attend to his stricken countryman Alaphilippe in a ditch after the world champion wrapped himself around a tree at high speed on Sunday.
Without further ado, here are your top 10 riders of the spring Classics – well, 11 in fact – in reverse order…
10. Magnus Sheffield and Ben Turner (Ineos Grenadiers)
The Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid of the Ineos Grenadiers, Sheffield and Turner – with a combined age of one Alejandro Valverde – have quickly become the beating heart of the Ineos Classics machine. Turner was a mainstay in the engine room, culminating his spring with a superb 11th on his Paris-Roubaix debut in spite of a nasty fall at the business end.
Sheffield provided the icing on the cake at De Brabantse Pijl where Ineos made their power in numbers count after the young American blew the race apart alongside Turner and Tom Pidcock. The latter’s campaign was hampered by digestive issues early on and then a broken finger in the mass crash at Liege, but there’s no denying that in this young and dynamic trio, Ineos Grenadiers have the blueprint for future success – and that’s not even mentioning Dylan van Baarle’s massive contribution…
Magnus Sheffield takes Brabantse Pijl win after eventful race
9. Biniam Girmay (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert)
Twelfth place in his debut Milan-San Remo showed that the 22-year-old from Eritrea had good legs coming into the spring. And after a solid fifth in E3, Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert made the wise choice to delay Girmay’s scheduled return home by a few days so that he could race Gent-Wevelgem. It was a decision that ensured Girmay received a hero’s welcome on his return to Eritrea, having become the first African rider to win a cobbled Classic.
That this was Girmay’s last contribution this spring matters not. His history-making ride captured the imagination of an entire continent and has elevated its author to trailblazer status. Already there is talk of a big-money move to a top team like Ineos Grenadiers – although the youngster would be best advised continuing his meteoric rise at Intermarche, the team which put such belief in his ability after Delko folded last year.
Gent-Wevelgem: Highlights of men's race as Eritrean rider Biniam Girmay makes history
Girmay’s victory was one of the many highlights in a bright spring for Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert, who also tasted success with Alexander Kristoff in Scheldeprijs, the Norwegian veteran adding a top 10 at the Ronde soon after. Then, following Tom Devriendt’s fourth and Adrien Petit’s sixth in the Roubaix velodrome, Quinten Hermans popped up and pipped Wout van Aert to second place in La Doyenne on Sunday to cap a fine campaign for the Belgian team in their first year in the WorldTour.
8. Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates)
The addition of the Slovenian superstar to the early Classics really spiced up the spring – not least because we’re just not used to Tour de France winners playing such a key role in the Classics. While Pogacar only came away with the single win in Strade Bianche, his series of attacks on the Poggio transformed Milan-San Remo and set the tone for the exciting finale we all witnessed.
After being caught short in Dwars door Vlaanderen, Pogacar processed all that information and came back days later with what appeared to be the winning gameplan for De Ronde. His attacks on the Koppenberg, Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg despatched everyone except the one rider who still stood between him and a debut Flanders win – although the less said about the finish, the better.
The Flanders fiasco was synonymous of Pogacar’s do-or-die attitude and a welcome sign that the 23-year-old is human after all. And by coming fourth in a two-horse race, Pog ensured, at the very least, that he has unfinished business over the Belgian bergs – music to the ears of most fans.
‘A slap in the face... you would think it’s the Oscars!’ – Pogacar lights up Flanders
The sudden death of his partner’s mother meant that Pogacar skipped the defence of his Liege-Bastogne-Liege crown – just days after he struggled (in a relative sense) to 12th place on the Mur de Huy in his Fleche Wallonne debut. But what a spring the Slovenian had, writing himself into the narrative whenever possible while clearly showing that both San Remo and the Ronde are Monuments he can add to his previous successes in Il Lombardia and Liege.
7. Stefan Kung (Groupama-FDJ)
The Swiss powerhouse won nothing except the hearts of everyone watching. Between E3 and Paris-Roubaix, 28-year-old Kung only once finished outside the top 10, bookending this run with places on the podium. In what was his first year going all-in for the Classics, Groupama-FDJ’s Kung showed that he could well win a Monument or major one-dayer in the future – provided it doesn’t come down to a sprint. His eye-catching performances certainly gave his fan club something to sing about…
6. Dylan Teuns (Bahrain Victorious)
With the exception of his Roubaix DNF, Teuns finished in the top 10 in all his races from the Ronde onwards, most notably lighting up the Fleche Wallonne finale to deny Alejandro Valverde yet another win on the Mur de Huy.
Out of contract at the end of the year, the Belgian is apparently being overlooked for a new deal at Bahrain Victorious because of his “quirky” character and his fixed ideas on how he goes about his business. But given his performances this spring – plus his proven track record of winning big stages in Grand Tours – you’d think there would be no shortage of possible suitors for Teuns.
After the campaign they have had, Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl could well be at the front of the pack – although Teuns may prefer being top dog at, say, Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert rather than share duties with Messers Evenepoel and Alaphilippe.
'What a finale!' - Teuns holds off Valverde in thrilling finish
5. Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl)
Prior to Sunday’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the 22-year-old would not have been anywhere near this list, having favoured the short stage races over the Classics in his programme. Sixth in De Brabantse Pijl showed a glimmer of his ability but even the real Eddy Merckx would have struggled to find the answers in the face of Ineos’ domination in that race.
After a disappointing 43rd in La Fleche, Evenepoel’s spring looked to be petering out with a whimper. But the 22-year-old emerged from the ruins to save Quick-Step’s spring just hours after their leading rider crashed in such pitiful circumstances. With Alaphilippe in hospital receiving treatment for fractures and a collapsed lung, Evenepoel’s victory was always going to be bittersweet for Quick-Step. But it was a timely two-fingered salute to the Belgian’s numerous critics who seem to be affronted by the very idea that this was a rider once compared to the Cannibal.
Evenepoel destroys field with ‘ferocious, vicious acceleration’
Merckx may have only been 20 when he won his first Monument, the 1966 Milan-San Remo, but it wasn’t until he was 24 that he won Liege at his third attempt. Such was the ferocity of Evenepoel’s attack on La Redoute, the rubber of his tyres hardly provided enough grip for the watts he was churning out. His career breakthrough win in what was his first Liege appearance was also the first time since 1990 that the decisive move came as early as La Redoute, around 29km from the finish.
4. Matej Mohoric (Bahrain Victorious)
Anyone who witnessed Mohoric’s two long-range solo wins in the Tour last summer will have put the versatile Slovenian down as a potential winner in one of cycling’s big one-day races. The 27-year-old apparently spent the winter plotting how he could win Milan-San Remo, coming up with a blueprint that included hanging on in there on the Poggio before using his daredevil descending skills and modern technology to secure the win.
Save for one dicey moment when he almost crashed into the gutter, it all worked out like clockwork for Mohoric, who, equipped with the now-famous dropper post, threw caution to the wind on the technical descent towards the Via Roma before holding the rampaging peloton off for a breakthrough win.
Not content with sitting on the laurels of a maiden Monument scalp, Mohoric went on to secure a top five at E3, a top 10 at Gent-Wevelgem, and a solid in-the-mix performance at Flanders. It was all building up to Paris-Roubaix where Mohoric seemed to have another gameplan: to win it à la Mat Hayman. And he may well have done just that had a puncture not stopped him in his tracks shortly before Dylan van Baarle’s decisive attack. The 27-year-old – still so young for someone who seems to have been around forever – rallied to take a career-best fifth at the Roubaix velodrome and provide enough proof that the Hell of the North could well be his one day, too.
Highlights: 'Sensational' Mohoric wins Milan-San Remo with daredevil brilliance
3. Dylan van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers)
In the same way that Wout van Aert looks to have benefited from the arrivals of Tiesj Benoot and Christophe Laporte at Jumbo-Visma, Van Baarle has reaped the rewards of having a strong and capable unit around him at Ineos. A solid eighth at E3 was followed by lowly enough results at Gent-Wevelgem and De Ronde to see the 29-year-old Dutchman written out of contention ahead of De Ronde, where his tenacity saw him almost pull off the impossible – finishing second to compatriot Mathieu van der Poel when Pogacar seemed destined for that particular step on the podium (at least).
But the best was to come. After Ineos Grenadiers split the pack in early crosswinds in Paris-Roubaix, forcing most of the pre-race favourites into an afternoon of playing catch-up from long before the cobbles even got going, Van Baarle put on a near-flawless display.
'It's all yours!' - Van Baarle delivers victory for Ineos at Paris-Roubaix
Even his puncture was immaculate, coming as it did at a moment that did not prove costly, setting up a dreamy scenario where a rider often considered as a bit of a journeyman was able to solo clear and hear the bell in the velodrome safe in the knowledge that he could complete the final lap by foot and still hold the cobblestone trophy aloft.
Out of contract next year, Van Baarle has been rumoured to join Jumbo-Visma. But given what Sir Dave Brailsford is building at Ineos, he would be crazy not to hang around and become an integral part of the likely success.
A blip at E3 aside (where the Belgian champion finished a lowly 12th after some aggressive riding to pave the way for team-mate Christophe Laporte), Van Aert has made the top 10 of all his Classics this spring, finishing off the podium on just one occasion (his eighth at Milan-San Remo). When Van Aert crossed the line arm-in-arm with Laporte to add E3 to his earlier Omloop Het Nieuwsblad victory, it seemed like the spring was going to belong to him and Jumbo-Visma – especially after his swashbuckling forays off the front days later at Gent-Wevelgem.
But the wheels fell off in that same race, with Laporte’s defeat to Biniam Girmay perhaps setting the tone for the rest of the spring. Van Aert was subsequently ruled out of Flanders after contracting Covid, which took the wind out of his sails. Dropped on the Arenberg after a puncture, Van Aert battled back into contention on his return at Paris-Roubaix – but he was always playing catch-up after the early split in the peloton played into the hands of Ineos and Van Baarle.
Still, runner-up at Roubaix followed by third place at Liege-Bastogne-Liege ensured that Van Aert has now finished on the podium of four of cycling’s five Monuments. While easily marked out in 2021, Van Aert has been given a new lease of life by the arrivals of Benoot and Laporte at Jumbo-Visma in 2022. His Covid layoff came at the worst possible moment, but the 27-year-old can still be encouraged by the strength of his spring.
'This is the big one' - Van Aert's incredible attack at Gent-Wevelgem
1. Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix)
The Dutchman returned to racing earlier than expected after a winter injury recuperation and he slipped almost effortlessly back into the narrative with third place at Milan-San Remo. This was followed by an outrageous Flanders double with wins in Dwars door Vlaanderen and De Ronde, the latter after he followed Pogacar’s accelerations on the climbs before pick-pocketing his inexperienced rival on the home straight with a display of bravery and pedalling nous second to none.
Van Poel was best of the rest at Amstel Gold, leading home the chasers for fourth place after Michal Kwiatkowski’s win, but perhaps suffered from a lack of team support in Paris-Roubaix where his repeated bursts to cling onto the dream eventually ran dry. Ninth place on the day was a humble conclusion to an otherwise near-flawless campaign for the 27-year-old, who proved that he’s the man to beat even when battling back from injury.
Highlights: Van der Poel triumphs again, ‘where was Pogacar?’
It's scary to think what Van der Poel could achieve were he part of a well-oiled classics machine like Jumbo-Visma or Ineos Grenadiers. Perhaps he is the missing link that Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl are looking for…
Before we come onto the biggest disappointments, we should focus on the leading lights of the women’s peloton – the riders who set alight the races which, thankfully, are taking up more and more of our screentime as the popularity of the women’s sport grows and grows.
Belgian champion Lotte Kopecky (Team SD Worx) got her spring off to a bang with victory at Strade Bianche, to start a sequence of seven Classics in which she had failed to finish outside the top nine. Second place in Paris-Roubaix may have been a cruel what-if moment had it not come just two weeks after Kopecky had the rare joy and unbridled honour of winning De Ronde in front of her home fans and while in the Belgian national colours.
Three WorldTour victories on the bounce put to bed any fears that Elisa Balsamo (Trek Segafredo) may suffer from the so-called curse of the rainbow jersey. And while the 24-year-old Italian’s form has tapered a little since – capped with the ignominy of being DSQ’ed for a sticky bidon during Paris-Roubaix – Balsamo will take many more positives than negatives from this first phase of her year as world champion.
Longo Borghini wins ‘epic’ Paris-Roubaix Femmes with perfectly-timed move
Compatriot and team-mate Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) only visited the top step of the podium once, but she saved that for the very best of occasions – picking up where team-mate Lizzie Deignan left off by soloing to glory in the Roubaix velodrome for a day she will never forget.
Another Italian, Marta Cavalli (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope), completed two thirds of an Ardennes treble with dominant victories in Amstel Gold and La Fleche Wallonne either side of a strong fifth place in Roubaix. The 24-year-old dovetailed nicely with team-mate Grace Brown in the chasing group at Liege, with the Australian taking second place and Cavalli sixth.
Victory in La Doyenne – finally – went to the Dutch veteran Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) who returned to the top of the podium for the first time since Omloop Het Nieuwsblad after finishing runner-up in Strade Bianche, De Ronde and La Fleche, and taking fourth in Amstel Gold. The 39-year-old has proven herself to be one of the strongest riders of the peloton as she now builds up to her dual targets of the Giro d’Italia Donne and the inaugural rebooted Tour de France Femmes.
Where to start? If the pre-Liege spring had been a nightmare for Quick-Step then it was a grim reality from which Lotto Soudal couldn’t wake up, with Belgian’s second team outperformed by Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert and unable to record a single top 10 in any of the Monuments. Even the guy wearing the ‘Climate Justice Now’ t-shirt recorded better results than Lotto Soudal, his sixth in Flanders capped with a strong runner-up spot behind Evenepoel in Liege.
Elsewhere, it was a torrid spring for former Classics giants Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies) and Sep Vanmarcke (Israel-Premier Tech), the former apparently suffering from long-Covid and looking even more of a shadow of his once glorious self. Australia’s Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco) continues to miss the rub of the green since his move from Team Sunweb, the decline of Oliver Naesen (Ag2R-Citroen) shows no signs of abating, while Denmark’s Kasper Asgreen (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) struggled to replicate his Classics form from 2021.
But perhaps the most disappointing string of results comes from Astana-Qazaqstan whose management are learning about the perils of not paying their riders on time by what appears to be some kind of ongoing collective strike action. Most notably, new arrival Gianni Moscon has struggled to put down any roots since his move from Ineos Grenadiers, the 28-year-old Italian failing to finish all four of his classics this spring.