Key Takeaways: Tadej Pogačar's Early-Season Dominance & Standouts From the Tour of Oman
Key highlights & takeaways from the a few select early-season races and what to keep an eye on in the coming days
As the early-season racing washes over us via the seemingly-endless series of one-day and blunted stage races, there is plenty of action, but the valuable and lasting takeaways have to be foraged like truffles from a Provençal forest (Parts 1 & 2).
For starters, Tadej Pogačar emerging from the off-season to destroy a strong field at the road/gravel hybrid Jaén Paraiso one-day race in Spain is no doubt a sign that the Slovenian is sick of hearing about the brilliance of Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel and is ready to reclaim his throne as the best rider in the world in 2023.
A little further down the list, a few nuggets like Mark Cavendish and his Astana leadout imploding in the final few hundred meters of stage 1 at the Tour of Oman, and young American Matteo Jorgenson winning on the extremely difficult stage 3, with relative ease, are potentially valuable road signs telling us what to expect in the months ahead.
Check out the breakdowns and key takeaways from each of these events below:
Jaén Paraiso Interior
43.8km: Pogačar is already testing the lead group by setting an extremely hard pace on the front on a slightly uphill dirt section.
42.5km: Pogačar’s infernal pace distances the majority of the group as soon as the pitch gets steeper, with only Ineos’ Ben Tulett the only rider capable of holding his wheel.
42km: Pogačar’s pace eventually drops Tulett and sees him easily ride clear of the chase group.
Pogačar’s pace sees him build up an insurmountable gap on the chase group as well as ride down and drop lone escapee Sergio Samitier en route to an incredibly impressive victory. Even with a late front wheel flat, the two-time Tour de France champion was able to coast in with nearly a minute in hand on the second-place finisher.
1) Tadej Pogačar +0
2) Ben Turner +49
3) Tim Wellens +49
1) Tadej Pogačar isn’t messing around in 2023
While Pogačar always starts the season strong (he has won the first race of the season for the last four seasons), his dismantling of the entire peloton over the gravel sectors was even more impressive than his usual UAE Tour GC win.
Since there was no real reason for Pogačar to come into this race this fit or race this aggressively in it, it appears that after a slightly disappointing 2022 season that saw him finish lower than 1st place at the Tour de France for the first time in his career, Pogačar has taken this disappointment personal and is back and ready to reclaim his Tour title in 2023.
This is unfortunate news for any riders who have designs on winning the Tour de France, like Jonas Vingegaard and Enric Mas.
Additionally, this level of fitness this early means that the one-day Monument contenders should also be on notice since the Slovenian could easily walk away with one, or more, one-day titles, in the next few months.
Tour of Oman
1km: Mark Cavendish’s Astana team, as they had been for the kms before, are on the front coming to the final km, with Cavendish slotted into third wheel.
600m: However, the extremely wide road and relatively slow pace mean that riders from behind are able to overtake Astana and disrupt their train. Cavendish is in 4th wheel, but Tim Merlier’s quickly advancing QuickStep train on the left and Bora/UAE on the right mean that Cavendish is about to be blocked in and lose position if he doesn’t make a move in the next few seconds.
500m: When Merlier’s QS team takes over at the front, Cavendish has a decision to make: He can either jump onto Merlier’s wheel as he goes past (left) or follow his Astana leadout through the quickly closing gap on the right.
400m: However, Cavendish chooses neither option (likely due to a lack of trust in his new leadout) while his leadout is moving far too slow, and is immediately boxed in. He is forced to freewheel briefly, which, at this point in a sprint, means guaranteed failure. Adding insult to injury, any chance of contention here is ruled out by his leadout man sitting up directly in front of him.
300m: Merlier is dropped off far too early by his QS team, but he is still able to surge away for the stage win. Meanwhile, we can see Cavendish floating at the tail-end of the group unable to contest the win after his leadout man, Martin Laas, sits up right in front of him.
1) Tim Merlier +0
2) David Dekker +0
3) Axel Zingle +0
2) Mark Cavendish and his Astana train sputtered in their first outing, but we should keep in mind that will only get better from here
The Astana leadout train should be applauded for their aggression in attempting to take control of the sprint early and for the decent job they did before things fell apart inside the final 500 meters.
We should keep in mind that their coordination will only get better from here and that their ‘early to the front’ approach will serve them better on smaller, tighter European roads where it is much harder to move up from the back of the pack.
However, the fact that they were so easily overtaken by rival trains, were moving far too slow in the key moments, and Cavendish appeared unsure about what wheel to follow in the final few hundred meters signal they have major challenges ahead if they want to be at the level to contest Tour de France stage wins.
One thing to keep in mind is that while Astana flopped in its first outing with their new star sprinter, throughout his career, Cavendish was one of the few sprinters in the world capable of free-lancing his way to Tour de France stage wins.
It just remains to be seen if Cavendish still possesses that skill at 38 years old (age he will be at the Tour) since the last time we saw him winning Tour stages back in 2021, he was given proverbial chariot rides by his QuickStep leadout.
3) Soudal-QuickStep will be happy with their decision to re-stock their sprint lineup with Tim Merlier
Judging by his absurdly-long sprint win, Tim Merlier, after a slightly disappointing 2022 season, looks to be in incredible shape and ready to deliver bigger wins down the line for his new team.
Considering QuickStep essentially swapped Merlier for Cavendish after signing the former when they let the latter’s contract expire at the end of 2022, they are likely feeling good about their decision and Patrick Lefevere’s ruthless transfer strategy appears to have paid off yet again.
1km: Movistar’s young American, Matteo Jorgenson, hits the front at the beginning of a steep final km. We can immediately see how fit and powerful he is due to the scramble behind to get on his wheel.
600m: When Rein Taaramäe is able to mark and then counter-attack his move, Jorgenson drifts to the other side of the road to both force Taaramäe to the front and keep an eye on his rival. This move also has the by-product of showing the others that he feels so strong that he has turned a steep uphill finish into a slow-speed match sprint.
200m: When Taaramäe makes his move, Jorgenson gets right on his wheel before throwing down his own attack from extremely far from the finish line.
50m: Jorgenson is able to continue the pace from his initial surge and shows his immense strength by pulling further and further away from his rival en route to his first career professional win and the GC lead.
1) Matteo Jorgenson +0
2) Mauri Vansevenant +2
3) Geoffrey Bouchard +3
GC Standings Heading Into Final Stage
1) Matteo Jorgenson +0
2) Diego Ulissi +5
3) Mauri Vansevenant +5
4) Matteo Jorgenson has improved over the off-season by learning how to convert strong rides into race wins
Movistar’s 23-year-old American has always been a talented rider capable of flirting with a major victory (most notably at the 2022 Tour de France), but, like his fellow young American riders, appears to have come into 2023 with a newfound confidence and racecraft that has seen him go from also-ran to race winner.
At first glance, the odds of the big-framed Jorgenson holding onto the overall lead on tomorrow’s final stage that finishes atop the brutal Green Mountain (5.7km@10%) appear slim, but, if we consider that he has appeared to be clearly the strongest rider in the race all week long, it starts to appear like a much more reasonable outcome
If Jorgenson can hold on for the overall win, it would signal the American has taken a major step up in 2023 and that Movistar could have a budding GC option in their ranks.
5) Honorable Mentions
Mauri Vansevenant: The 23-year-old Belgian currently sits third overall and has an outside chance of winning the overall on Wednesday. Also, his performances at this race so far mean that QS has yet again done a great job of picking up an affordable young talent capable of winning races, and scoring points.
Rein Taaramäe: On the other end of the age spectrum, the 35-year-old Taaramäe showed he still has what it takes and could very well leave Oman as the overall winner.
Q36.5 Pro Cycling: Doug Ryder’s new team took down a formidable lineup including some of the sport’s hottest sprinters at the recent Clasica de Almeria when Matteo Moschetti beat top sprinters like Arnaud De Lie, Jordi Meeus, Alexander Kristoff, and Fernando Gaviria to win the Spanish one-day race on Sunday.
What to Watch This Week:
Tour of Oman Stage 5 (Feb 15th)
Race leader Matteo Jorgenson will attempt to defend his small race lead on the brutally steep, and ironically named, Green Mountain but will come under immense pressure from his GC rivals.
Vuelta a Andalucia Stages 1-5 (Feb 15-19)
Tadej Pogačar will take his red-hot form to Southern Spain to go head-to-head with other high-profile GC riders like Enric Mas, Mikel Landa, and Carlos Rodríguez. While the course lacks high mountain passes, the fact that every stage in the five-stage lineup features difficult terrain means we are likely in for an exciting few days.
Volta ao Algarve Stages 1-5 (Feb 15-19)
The start list won’t be as stacked and the terrain quite as difficult across the border in Portugal, but it will still be interesting to see riders like Tom Pidcock, Dani Martinez, Stefan Küng, Sergio Higuita, and Rui Costa duke it out for the overall win at the five-stage race.
Premium BTP subscribers will be getting members-only updates and breakdowns on these races throughout the week…
I very much enjoy the video clips you include with your analysis.