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David L. Stanley

The Spring Classics: A Review

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David Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo, Velo-news.com, 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:

Did you complain when Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant were scoring all the baskets? Do you bitch that all the best buildings were designed by I.M Pei? And Messi, he’s scoring all the goals … yawn. Oh, and did I hear you say “that goddamned Beethoven, everyone is always talking about how great his symphonies are, I’m so bored by it.” Well, then. Just shut up about the Spring Classic dominance that overwhelmed our senses these last two months. What we just witnessed was unforeseeable greatness.

The formulae were simple enough. If a race had serious climbs, Tadej Pogačar won with an explosive and un-answerable attack. If it was brutally hard and cobbled, Mathieu van der Poel won in much the same way.

Brutal, indeed. Twelve Monuments between them since 2020. The breakdown:

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Tadej Pogačar and Mathieu van der Poel rode with spectacular panache this spring. At Flanders, MvdP was away with 45 km to go as a solo. At Paris-Roubaix, he was even more devastating. 200 km raced, and Bam!, away went MvdP as he soloed over much of the worst terrain to his 2nd win. At L-B-L, Tadej laid low until La Redoute with 35 km to go. Tadej makes the jump, and outside of a slight attempt at a response from Richard Carapaz, after 800 meters, all that was left was a Zone 4 ride to the finish. After the race, MvdP had this to say about that: “I’m realistic enough. If it’s hilly, and Tadej has a good day, I cannot follow him, even with my best legs.” As we say here in the US about basketball, game knows game.

Mathieu van der Poel wins the 2024 Tour of Flanders Sirotti photo

Still, with his 3rd place, MvdP does add to a staggering array of Monument achievements. Mathieu has started 18 Monuments. His worst finish? 13th place at the 2020 Milano-San Remo.  That is a testament to race smarts, a high level of fitness in all aspects of the sport, and a willingness to endure a lot of pain. In fact, so far in 2024, Mathieu van der Poel has only had seven total race starts (per ProCycling Stats) with 3 wins, five podiums, and an overall six top ten placings.  Tadej is perhaps a bit more impressive. Through only ten starts, Pogačar has six wins (plus a GC victory) and eight podiums. Which is the better spring? I like them both.

Six Monument wins are impressive by age 25 (he’ll be 26 in September) for Tadej (you should recall that MvdP is 29). Here’s the real kicker; TP has just 13 career Monument starts. He’s winning Monuments at a higher rate than Mathieu. Most importantly, consider this: Eddy Merckx had 3 wins in his first 13 Monument starts.  Eddy won his first Monument, the first of 7 Milano-San Remos at age 20. Eddy would turn 21 in June of that year, 1966. Tadej’s first, the 2021 Il Lombardia was at age 22.

Eddy Merckx wins the 1966 Milano-San Remo.


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For this season to date, Tadej Pogačar has a mind-numbing winning percentage of 70%. Even more boggling, he and his UAE Emirates squad are only partly focused on the spring classics. The real goal is the Giro/Tour de France double. While under most circumstances, as a 21st century occurrence, The Double has been viewed as unlikely as another visit in my lifetime by Halley’s Comet. Yet, with Jonas Vingegaard out for quite possibly the season, the double seems a distinct happening. At the moment, the smart money gives TP an 81.8% chance of winning the Giro. The current moneyline for the Tour de France has Pogacar at (-180). That means you’d risk $180 for the chance to win back your wager plus another $100. The next favorite is Roglic at (+350). That means if you bet $100 on Roglic to win, and he does, you’d win $350. Overwhelmingly Pogacar, eh? I couldn’t track down any odds on the double. But then, I’m not a bettor. If you find them, get with me on Twitter, @dstan58.

Tadej Pogacar wins the 2024 Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Sirotti photo

If you are the sort of person who hangs in pubs where cyclists like to drink and argue, you might win a few with this one: Mathieu van der Poel is the first rider to finish on the podium at Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and Liege-Bastogne-Liege in a single season since his father Adrie van der Poel in 1986!

But injuries! What about Evenepoel and van Aert? I can hear you saying it; don’t deny it. I hate that they were not present for much of this spring. I hate that the UCI and race organizers are so cavalier about road markings and furniture and rider safety but that’s another column. Injuries happen in sport. Consider this: Remco Evenepoel has never finished ahead of Pogačar in a monument that Pogačar has finished. That’s not to say that Remco isn’t a player. He most certainly is. Pogačar’s win marks the 13th time in the last 16 monuments that either Van der Poel, Pogačar, or Evenepoel has won. Do the math. Remco matters.

Remco Eenepoel winning the time trial (and final GC) in the 2024 Volta ao Algarve.


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Let’s take a moment to salute one more outstanding spring. Maxim van Gils. The 24-year-old Belgian with Lotto-Dstny had an incredible spring and it’s been buried under the wonder of TP and MvdP. MvG won the ITT at Vuelta a Andalucia. 2nd place at GP Miguel Indurain. 3rd at Strade Bianche, Fleche Wallone, and La Drome. 4th at L-B-L. 5th at Faun-Ardeche. 7th at M-SR.  Without question, the best spring by a rider not named Tadej or Mathieu.

Maxim van Gils finishes third at the 2024 Strade Bianche. Sirotti photo

This has been the spring of the solo, the aria, le solitaire. Eleven of the last fourteen Monuments have been won with solo breakaways. Eight of the last nine were won by lone riders. Why, you ask? It’s the safest way to win, if one has the fitness. A small group, properly organized, might work, but then, the last few kilometers all might go straight to hell. Large bunch sprints are often a dangerous crapshoot.

If you have the ability to generate 530 Watts/8.2 Watts/kg on La Redoute for 4:03, the fastest time ever, as Tadej Pogacar did during L-B-L this past April 21st, why would you wait around for someone else’s help? How could they help? You are the strongest of the strong. By the way, Remco set the fastest time up La Redoute in 2023 when he won L-B-L for the second time. His time of 4:13 was 10 seconds slower than Tadej’s over the 1.54 km ascent.

This hasn’t been a boring season. It’s been gobsmackingly astonishing. My friend Marco Vermeij had a pretty decent pro career and he knowingly pointed out: “This is a Pareto distribution. 10% of the cyclists win 90% of the races.” A Pareto-distribution may be more familiar to you as the 80/20 rule. 80% of the consequences come from 20% of the causes. 80% of the wealth is controlled by 20% of the people; that’s perhaps the most famously quoted Pareto.

Did you whinge, whine, and wail when Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier were going head to head over those three incredible fights in the 70s? You did? Well, I feel bad for you son, cause I got 99 problems but this breath-taking run of spring cycling greatness ain’t one.

See you after the Giro.

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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