Cyclingnews is delighted to welcome a new columnist for the 2022 Spring Classics: Fabian Cancellara. During a glittering career, the Swiss rider won the biggest one-day races, often multiple times over, and will be bringing his insights, expertise, and analysis to Cyclingnews' coverage over the next few weeks. First up, he casts his eye over Friday's E3 Saxo Bank Classic.
The E3 Saxo Bank Classic was the Jumbo-Visma show. The sponsor is a chain of supermarkets in Holland and it was like the team going into their local store, strolling down the aisle, and placing bottles of champagne into their basket. They made their opponents look like muppets.
I watched the race from my home in Switzerland and it was interesting until a certain point, but then it turned into something else. It wasn't necessarily boring, but in the end I was just thinking 'right, OK'. It was just a matter of waiting until Van Aert and Laporte crossed the line, and then seeing what was going on at the back. A battle for third place is never really an exciting battle.
It's not Jumbo-Visma's responsibility to make the race interesting, however; it's down to the other teams to make a race of it.
Credit has to go to Ineos, in that respect. They were one of the only other teams to impress me. Of course, they missed the first move on the Taaienberg but I thought the way they closed the gap and then launched their leaders on the Eikenberg was a great way to correct the mistake. Thanks to them, the lead group expanded and the ratio of Jumbo riders decreased. They made the race interesting again.
But it wasn't for long. They hit the Paterberg and once again: Boom, gone, over.
In general, we have two teams that are running cycling right now: Jumbo and UAE. They're the two teams that are just crushing things at the moment. In the cobbled Classics, QuickStep have always been the team who dictated the race with their numbers. That's how it's been for so many years, but it's changing now. This Jumbo-Visma is a different beast but it looks the same. I won't say they're doing a Mapei – it's another way of racing – but it's clear that they've taken over as the team that calls the shots.
Van Aert looks super strong but look at the team he now has around him. Christophe Laporte: I was thinking to myself, where the hell was he last year? Tiesj Benoot: another new signing who has reached another level. These riders are changing teams, finding new motivation, and performing, and I'm happy for them. Happiness and a good environment can make riders come out of their usual zone of performance.
It also comes down to money, of course. If you invest €40 million, you're going to see results. What I see at Jumbo-Visma is a team where everything is the very best it can be. Why are they faster? They're faster because they have more people working in all the areas of performance, and having all those people around you costs money.
Everything is more aerodynamic, everyone has an aero bike, everyone has aero wheels, everyone has super-fast tyres, everyone eats to perfection, everyone knows how much he needs to push… Everything is just 'more'. I don't want to say they're like robots, but everything is set up for them and they just have to go out there and race.
Cobbles vs gutter
Of course, we've seen some good teams in the past but it's rare to see a leader who's so far ahead. Van Aert did two big accelerations today: one on the Taaienberg and one on the Paterberg. What I found interesting was that one was on cobbles and one was not.
The Taaienberg was where my old rival Tom Boonen always used to attack. He would always sprint up the thin strip of smooth concrete at the side of the cobbles. But now they've put metal barriers there, so the riders have to go on the cobbles. Even with 80km still to go, that makes a huge difference.
When you're on the cobbles, it becomes a matter of pure power. At a certain level, you just reach the maximum power you can push, and everyone has to fight for themselves on their own terms. In the gutter you might stand a chance of following the wheel but on the cobbles, if there's someone who can just go faster, you don't have a chance.
On the Paterberg, there were no barriers, so they were able to use the gutter on the left. Even so, Van Aert attacks and no one can get near him. Only Laporte could follow and even he was losing the wheel over the top.
If the Paterberg had barriers and they had to ride on the cobblestones, the damage would have been even greater. Not even Laporte would have been with him. He’d have been alone and he probably would have still stayed away for the last 40km.
Everyone is beatable
After such a one-sided display, the biggest question ahead of the next races is: how can Van Aert and Jumbo-Visma be beaten?
I'll start by saying he is beatable. Everyone is beatable.
The problem is, it's actually hard to find something his rivals could have done better today. If you can't follow on the Paterberg then you can't follow on the Paterberg - what can you do?
Well, you have to find other ways to turn the race in your favour. You have to find ways to isolate Van Aert. If that's not possible, then at least don't wait for Jumbo-Visma to make their move. Maybe don't always wait for the key climbs - that could be an idea. What you need to do is surprise them, and invent something. It's a risk, but if you wait for them to rip the race up where they want to, then you're just waiting to get beaten.
What I would say to Van Aert's opponents is: Don't stop believing. Anything and everything is possible. This is pure racing and if someone has a puncture, someone crashes, or something happens, the race can turn on its head.
We've seen so many races where it has looked boring and predictable and then boom, everything has changed. It's never finished until the finish line. You can think more rationally when it's all over but in the race, you simply have to believe it is possible. If you don't, it's not worth starting.
As it stands, it will take a miracle to beat Van Aert at the Tour of Flanders next weekend, but there are some small glimmers of hope. There were a couple of surprises at E3. Biniam Girmay was really impressive. It was also interesting that Stefan Küng was not only third, but his Groupama-FDJ teammate Madouas was also in the top 10. These riders can surprise us again and more riders can bring surprises in the next races.
The question is: Where was Sagan? Where was Van Avermaet? Where was Campenaerts? Where was anyone from Bora-Hansgrohe?
We have to remember a lot of people have been sick, a lot of people have had long COVID. These are factors that have influenced this spring. QuickStep, for example, have had a bad time with illness. They were without Lampaert and Declercq today, and that affects the whole team, the whole way they race. It doesn’t mean QuickStep are not ready for it, but they need to get their fitness and confidence back, and time is tight.
The only thing that could really worry Van Aert and Jumbo-Visma right now? Tadej Pogačar and Mathieu van der Poel are coming.
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month*
Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
after your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59
Join now for unlimited access
Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Fabian Cancellara is an ex-professional cyclist who raced from 2001 to 2016 for Mapei, Fassa Bortolo, CSC, and Trek. The Swiss rider was one of the top riders in the peloton during that time, picking up 88 victories during his storied career. Chief among them were three editions apiece of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, Milan-San Remo, eight stages of the Tour de France, four world time trial titles, and two Olympic time trial titles.