The neutralisation of Dwars Door Vlaanderen on Wednesday certainly looked chaotic, and that was confirmed from within the peloton as Michael Valgren (Dimension Data) hit out at "stupid bike riders" who kept fighting for position even though the race had been stopped.
The breakaway and peloton were waved to a halt with 76 kilometres remaining to allow for ambulances to access riders who'd crashed in the women's race, which was behind schedule and set to use the same section of the course over the Kluisberg and Knokteberg.
Though Valgren finished with the main peloton, 20 or so seconds down on winner Mathieu van der Poel, he found himself chasing for the best part of 20 kilometres when the race resumed.
The reason, he explained, was riders jostling to be near the front, even when the race was being slowed and indeed when it was at a standstill, as it was twice in short succession.
"We [Dimension Data] were all at the front before it was neutralised. Then bike riders are bike riders, because we're all so fucking stupid. Nobody stops, everyone fights to get to the front, even though it's neutralised. I was so annoyed," Valgren told Cyclingnews in Waregem.
"Suddenly there was the car with Scott Sunderland [the race director], and he had to go to the front, but people just didn't move for him. Then I was just standing there talking to him, and suddenly they started and I was like 'what the fuck'.
"I was at the back so when they started again I was actually dropped on the Kluisberg, because they went without me. I had to chase back for like 20km. I was with some guys but still, it's so annoying. People, they just don't get it. That's just bike racing nowadays, I guess."
Dimension Data 'almost there' after setbacks
That complication was added to the pile for Valgren, who has had a rough start to his Dimension Data career. The Dane was one of the most talked-about riders ahead of the Classics, given his wins at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Amstel Gold Race with Astana last year, but has struggled with illness and lack of form so far this spring.
He and most of his teammates got sick during the Volta ao Algarve and, after a struggling at the Opening Weekend, have been playing catch-up ever since.
"We didn't recover well. We raced too early and maybe trained too early, instead of taking a break. It took a long time to recover. Even at Paris-Nice and TIrreno-Adriatico, I wouldn't say we were fucked but we were influenced by it," Valgren said.
At E3-Harelbeke last Friday, the first of the big races in the main Flemish Classics period, only three Dimension Data riders finished, Valgren being the best placed in 39th. At Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday, Boasson Hagen was the only one to finish, doing so nearly nine minutes behind the winning group. There was improvement at Dwars Door Vlaanderen, as all the team finished, with Valgren and Boasson Hagen in the main group just behind the winning five-man break.
After chasing his way back to the break, Valgren was unable to jump on board when Tiesj Benoot and Bob Jungels attacked and forced the winning selection on the second ascent of the Knokteberg with 33 kilometres to go.
"After chasing, I tried to recover but it was full gas from the Kluisberg to Berg Ten Houte, so just after there I could kind of recover. Me and Eddy were actually in a really good position on the Knokteberg but we just couldn’t follow when Tiesj and Bob went," Valgren said.
"That was a little disappointing, but at least we were up there and if we’d had a little more legs I think we’d have followed and then we’d have been fighting for the victory. We have to look on the bright side. I think we’re almost there, so that’s good."
While things are seemingly on the up for Valgren and Boasson Hagen, that’s not the case for the third leading member of their Classics arsenal, Julien Vermote. Struggling to find form after the illness, he was caught up in a crash at Dwars with just over 70km to go, and climbed gingerly onto the team bus.
"It wasn’t good because it happened at a shit moment. I was in the back and never managed to get back on. It’s not nice, but that’s life sometimes," Vermote told Cyclingnews.
"I think some of the guys are getting better, but for sure I'm not on my level. OK, I crashed at a bad moment, but still, I’m not at the level I want to be. It’s annoying, because I had high hopes. You have to try and keep the morale."
Valgren and Boasson Hagen will have to take the positives from Dwars, as attentions now turn to the big one, the Tour of Flanders, coming up on Sunday.
"Luckily for me, I still have the Ardennes, where I can hopefully also do something," said Valgren. "We’ll see about Sunday, that’s my first big goal of the year. Hopefully I have really good legs there. Maybe it will all be beneficial.
"For sure I feel hopeful. Today, being in the bunch was good. Longer races normally suit me better so hopefully I have good legs on Sunday."
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.
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