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David L. Stanley

Classics Racing after Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders)

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David Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo,, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Story of the Tour de France and Cycling Heroes.

David L Stanley

Melanoma: It Started with a Freckle

David L. Stanley's masterful telling of his bout with skin cancer Melanoma: It Started with a Freckle is available in print, Kindle eBook and audiobook versions, just click on the Amazon link on the right.

David L. Stanley writes: A look at classics racing after the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders):

Whether it is a perfectly poured pint of Guinness or one of cycling oldest events, you cannot go wrong with a classic. Proof? I had a lovely Guinness on Saturday evening. On Sunday morning, I snuggled down on my couch to watch the fastest Tour of Flanders of all time.

Equally satisfying.

As a bike racing fan, the ’23 Ronde van Vlaanderen was a spectacular event: full of crashes and chases, swashbuckling, and general derring-do on the part of cycling’s brightest lights. As an American Cycling Fan, it was a race never to be forgotten. It was a race with extra-ordinary implications for the state of affairs for American cyclists.

The implications are courtesy of searing efforts put forth by two Americans whose combined age is 49. Neilson Powless (EF-EasyPost), age 26, and Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar), age 23, both placed in the top 10 of the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Never before have two Americans finished so high in one of cycling’s Monuments.

Neilson Powless on his way to fifth at the Tour of Flanders. Sirotti photo.

Powless took 5th place, a result not seen since the heyday of George Hincapie. He sprinted from a group which contained 3rd place Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), 4th place Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), 6th place Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), Kasper Asgreen (Soudal-Quick Step), and 8th place Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious). Their group finished 1:12 behind the winner, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates).

Meanwhile, just seven seconds behind the sprinting group, Matteo Jorgenson soloed home for 9th place, 1:30 ahead of 10th place Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates). Only one US rider has ever won a Monument, the now slightly discredited Tyler Hamilton who took Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2003. As far as I can dig up, no pair of US riders have ever placed in the Top Ten of a Monument before. A glorious way to spend the first Sunday in April for the stars and stripes.

Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) is indeed cycling’s fine young cannibal. Far too many athletes have been senselessly saddled with “the next Eddy” moniker, but at age 24, the Slovenian seems able to manage the expectations and live up to them. His ride at Sunday’s Tour of Flanders was a dope-slap to all the naysayers. His last two trips up the Oude Kwaremont were blazing fast. No one had ever broken the four minute barrier on the Kwaremont before. His first time up, he clocked a leisurely 6:22 for the 2.15 km ascent.

Trip number 3 was a race-worthy at 4:12. It was trip number two that was earth-shattering. Three minutes and 56 seconds for an average rate of 33 KPH. Not even at the height of the EPO wars did a man ascend so quickly. This year’s RvV’s overall average speed, 44.083 KPH over the 273 km raced, is the fastest in history.

Tadej Pogacar wins De Ronde. Sirotti photo

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Granted, part of that average speed breakthrough is due to a sea change in the nature of pro racing. In earlier days, the peloton would roll along while several attacks headed down the road. Once the escapade matinale (you are missed, Paul Sherwen) established itself, race speed stabilized for several hours until the big boys began to race in earnest. No more. The attacks are furious, the speeds are high, and the race goes into echelons and the gutter from Kilometer Zero.

Part of the increase in speed, too, are the Three Kings—les Trois Rois—and their high-powered teams. Pogačar, Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin–Deceuninck), and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) are more than extraordinary cyclists. Their teams were able to attract exceptionally talented men to ride in support of them. Often, that support takes the shape of vicious early attacks to get down the road so as to be ready to assist the captain when he bridges up.

So exceptional are many of today’s top lieutenants that van Aert’s number one teammate Christophe LaPorte won a blistering Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday, March 29. And with a nudge and a slight push from his team captain, on March 26, LaPorte also took Gent-Wevelgem.

Christophe Laporte takes Gent Wevelgem. Sirotti photo

Tangential Point to Ponder—If you don’t well up as Gent-W passes the cemeteries from The Great War and The Menin Gate, you need to have your humanity checked. Just like today, we have always sent young men and women to war, and many of them do not return alive. Just because it happened in 1916 does not mean the families did not suffer as your neighbor suffered when their son or daughter was taken out by IED in Afghanistan.

Back to the races.

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Let’s talk about that Gent-Wevelgem race for a second. The blowback on Wout’s gift was gale-force. The blowback was wrong. Christophe and Wout were the class of the field. The pair smashed away alone for the last 50 km after blowing everyone out the back on the Kemmelberg. They shared the load.

This was not the buying and selling of races so common in an earlier era. The two are teammates. LaPorte has been selfless in his work for van Aert. Wout wants to thank him for his work and ensure that the work continues as the season moves on. A pat on the back, a shout-out to the press, and a $100 Amazon gift card is not going to motivate LaPorte to slay himself in Paris-Roubaix on Easter Sunday. LaPorte is a top pro himself. Wins matter. A win in a classic matters more. I guarantee you that LaPorte will be there, at WvA’s side, for every moment of P-R. Kudos to Wout and Christophe for working this out on their own, with no meddling from team sponsors, owners, or even the DS.

Since we’ve digressed, let’s digress a bit more. Let’s talk E3 Saxo Bank Classic, the E3 Harelbeke to folks who remember pre-2012. The GP E3 is a true Flemish cobbled classic. The riders wrestle with the Kruisberg, Taaienberg, Paterberg and the Old Kwaremont. Tom Boonen is the record-holder of victories with five (in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2012) when he surpassed Rik van Looy (winner in 1964, 1965, 1966 and 1969). It’s a real race, 207 km of serious hellingen and bergs and paddestraat that tests all who enter.

Wout van Aert wins E3. Sirotti photo

In a three-up sprint, Wout van Aert took the top step. Mathieu van der Poel took second, and yes, Tadej was third. Yet, who was fourth? American Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar), on a brutally wet and cold day, came 4th, 33 seconds behind the lead trio.

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Let’s go even further down the rabbit hole. Those darned Young Americans:

Matteo Jorgenson – winner of a very tough Tour of Oman which included the points jersey and the young rider. 9th at Flanders. 8th on GC at Paris-Nice. 4th at E3 Saxo. Stellar.

Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) – 5th place UAE Tour. His days are yet to come in the high mountains of the Grand Tours at the side of Jonas Vingegaard.
Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) – 2nd in the youth jersey, 12th on GC in Tirreno-Adriatico. Like Kuss, young Brandon will be counted upon to sacrifice himself for the Tadej during the Grand Tours.

Magnus Sheffield (Ineos) – 28th in RvV, 52nd in Dwars, 38th in G-W, 24th in M-SR.

Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafreddo) - 5th La Drôme Classic, 10th on GC at Vuelta a San Juan and the winner of Stage 3.

Kevin Vermaerke (DSM) – 8th on GC at Vuelta a San Juan.

To step out of alphabetical order, Neilson Powless (EF-EasyPost) has quietly become the strongest American rider of his generation. He’s my pick to win Liege-Bastogne-Liege on April 23. The Native American (Oneida) has had a spring season that matches or outdoes any American cyclist in history. Check the stats for 2023. For most riders, this would be one dandy set of lifetime palmares.

1st Overall Étoile de Bessèges
1st Grand Prix La Marseillaise
3rd Overall Tour des Alpes-Maritimes et du Var
3rd Dwars door Vlaanderen
5th Tour of Flanders
6th Overall Paris–Nice
7th Milan–San Remo

Extra-ordinary results from the 26 year old Powless. Let me remind you that he also won the Clasica San Sebastian in 2021.

<pops back up out of the rabbit hole>

No breakdown of serious spring racing is complete without a mention of the season opener: Het Volk.  The 2023 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was, as always, a race that tested the riders’ early season form with its mix of hills and cobbles and wind and February 25th weather. In a surprise move, Jumbo-Visma’s Dylan van Baarle jumped away 35 km from the finish and held everyone at bay to take a well-deserved win. 21 years old Belgian Arnaud de Lie (Lotto-Dstny) bested (here we go again) Christophe LaPorte to take the podium’s second step. Arnaud de Lie is the real deal. Watch for this newly minted 21-year-old to cop a big win or two this season.

One quick note on Paris-Roubaix. Don’t place your P-R bets on the basis of Tour of Flanders showings. Sean Kelly said <with a true Irish accent>, “If you tink you can go well at Paris-Roubaix just because you went well at the Tour of Flanders, tink again, me boyo.” You’d be a fool to argue with King Kelly. The winner of 9 monuments, 13 classics altogether, 2 Paris-Roubaix, and no Tours of Flanders, he knows that P-R is not just brutal on rider and bike, it’s also a crapshoot of luck and fortuity.

Sean Kelly after the 1985 Tour of Lombardia.

Who’s going to win? The smart money would go on the cyclocross champions van Aert and van der Poel. The smart money is often wrong. Me, I’m too smart, or “too frugal” to risk a flutter on such a race. I’ll be sitting in a chair with a big mug of Yorkshire Gold tea as I cheer for everyone who ventures into L’Enfer du Nord.
It's been a thrilling men’s season to date. Why?

1) We have three exceptionally strong riders who clearly take a great deal of joy in racing their bikes. At the close of day, they’re kids on bikes in a race to be first to the neighborhood ice cream shop. The pleasure they take is palpable.
2) There is respect in the peloton. While you can’t truly be buddies with your closest competitors, civility and sportsmanship are clearly on show this season.
3) There are plenty of solid racers just a wheel’s width behind de Drie Koningen, ready to jump if the big boys waver. They’ve already shown they can win races in the presence of the three guys.

And oh, jeez, think about next season’s spring classics with Remco and Pidcock and Turner and Wright all healthy and thrown into the mix. It’s the time of our lives, if you’re a bike racing fan. In tennis, fans have been blessed with 20 years of Roger, Rafa, and Nole. Here in our corner of the sporting world, may we also be blessed with many years of Mathieu, Tadej, and Wout.

With a healthy dose of Neilson and Matteo tossed into the mix.

David Stanley, like nearly all of us, has spent his life working and playing outdoors. He got a case of Melanoma as a result. Here's his telling of his beating that disease. And when you go out, please put on sunscreen.


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