Sonny Colbrelli's Euro Performance Showed Us He is a Legitimate Threat for World Champs
Plus, Wout van Aert continued his incredible run at the Tour of Britain while Mathieu van der Poel kept his road race World Championship hopes alive in Antwerp
This past weekend featured multiple races with some of the biggest names in the sport which functioned as a dress rehearsal for the World Road Race Championships later this month in Flanders. At the Tour of Britain, Wout van Aert put the finishing touches on a four-stage win, overall title-winning performance, while Sonny Colbrelli emerged victorious in the European Road Race Championships.
While Van Aert’s nearly effortless overall win at Britain seemed somewhat inevitable, Colbrelli’s win over Remco Evenepoel, and dropping superstars like Tadej Pogačar, on an extremely difficult course in the stunningly beautiful hamlet of Trento, Italy was fairly shocking and should send a message to the rest of the world that the Italian has emerged as one of the sport’s premier sprinter/climber hybrids.
Euro Champs Race Notes:
22.3km: Remco Evenepoel attacks out of an elite front group. The move drops Pogačar, but Italy’s Sonny Colbrelli and France’s Benoît Cosnefroy are able to stay with him.
22km: Evenepoel keeps the pace hard over the top of the climb, but when he looks back and clearly sees Colbrelli, he should sit up due to Colbrelli’s superior sprinting ability. Evenepoel needs to call Colbrelli’s bluff since if he wants to go to the line without a much slower rider, he needs to take responsibility for the pace-setting. And by forcing Colbrelli to the front to work, Evenepoel can increase his chances of dropping Colbrelli on the final climb.
11km: Instead of forcing Colbrelli to make a decision, Evenepoel pulls continuously for an entire lap around the circuit, and the final time up the climb, he drops Cosnefroy. However, Colbrelli hangs on, which means Evenepoel has a near-zero chance of winning unless he can force Colbrelli to the front and try a long-bomb attack.
8km: However, Evenepoel just stays on the front and pulls Colbrelli closer to the finish line. This makes no sense and means he has a close to zero percent chance of winning and shows his lack of experience and tactical awareness. Bizarrely, shortly before this, his Belgian team car passed him and presumably gave him advice, which can’t be this. Also, notice how aero his position is on the road bike and how smooth his pedal stroke is. This is what makes him so lethal with solo moves in road races.
.7km: Evenepoel does eventually ask Colbrelli to pull through for a few turns, but Colbrelli smartly slots into 2nd position before heading into the final km. A few moments later, Evenepoel realizes this is unideal and tries to force him to the front, but at this point, the damage is done.
The advantage of Colbrelli’s positioning coming into the final turn is displayed when he expertly divebombs the corner to overtake Evenepoel. If the roles were reserved, Evenepoel could have potentially done the same to Colbrelli, attacked coming out of the turn, and attempted to hold him off until the finish line.
Instead, Colbrelli gets to dictate the terms of the sprint and opens up his powerful move from a long way out. He is so much faster than Evenepoel that the Belgian appears to be going backward when he stands up to respond.
Tour of Britain Stage 8:
In the final sprint of the final stage of the Tour of Britain, Wout van Aert needs to get a place in the top 3 and for race-leader Ethan Hayter to finish outside the top 3 to take the overall lead. But, even with a stage race win at stake, Van Aert doesn’t panic when former sprinter star Andre Greipel jumps early on the right side of the road and appears ready to turn back the clock by pushing for the win on the extremely fast downhill sprint. Instead, Van Aert sits on Mark Cavendish’s wheel on the left side of the road.
The speed is so high that most of the sprinters struggle to get out of the saddle, but Van Aert just calmly slingshots around Cavendish and Greipel to win the stage and take the overall title.
Antwerp Port Epic:
1.7km: Across the North Sea, Taco van der Hoorn and Mathieu van der Poel are off the front of the small Antwerp Port Epic. Van der Hoorn knows he is likely doomed, but unlike Evenepoel, he realizes this and attempts to catch Van der Poel off guard by attacking coming out of a roundabout inside the final 2km. Unfortunately for him, Van der Poel recognizes it and is able to respond.
In the final sprint, Van der Poel opens things up extremely early and Van der Hoorn isn’t even able to respond. Van der Poel’s status at world champs has been in doubt due to a back injury sustained at the Olympic Mountain Bike Race, but in this sprint, he looks just as powerful and comfortable as ever.
1) Sonny Colbrelli gets a very impressive victory and is quickly emerging as a favorite for the road race World Championships coming up in two weeks’ time.
He might not have won a stage at the recent Tour de France, but he consistently displayed incredible strength over difficult terrain, and today’s win, combined with his overall title at the Benelux Tour, has to catapult him into the list of elite favorites, along with Wout van Aert, Julian Alaphilippe and Matej Mohorič at Worlds.
2) Colbrelli’s win was impressive, but it potentially wouldn’t have been possible without Remco Evenepoel’s lack of tactical awareness, which reared its head yet again. The young Belgian pulled one of the fastest riders in the world, Sonny Colbrelli, right to the finish line, only to get toasted by Colbrelli in the sprint finish.
Evenepoel’s Belgian team worked all day to put him in the right position in the finale, and when Evenepoel attacked with around 20-kilometers to go and dropped Tadej Pogačar, everything appeared to be going to plan. But, a key issue was that this attack failed to distance Colbrelli. As soon as Evenepoel saw Colbrelli was still there, he needed to sit up and force Colbrelli to pull on the front, so that he would have a chance to drop Colbrelli on the final climb.
If Colbrelli failed to pull through, then Evenepoel needed to call his bluff and let the dropped riders come back, and attempt another attack on or before the final climb that could potentially distance Colbrelli. The massive advantage for Evenepoel with that scenario is that the regroup wouldn’t have been catastrophic since the group included his teammate Ben Hermans, who could have helped him cover attacks.
Instead, Evenepoel just sat on the front for the rest of the race, failing to even attack Colbrelli, and just pulled the far superior sprinter to the finish line.
Evenepoel appeared angry and surprised at the near seven bike length gap between him and Colbrelli at the finish line, but, in reality, there was no other logical outcome,
3) This brings up a major issue for Evenepoel. Due to his complete lack of sprint, he can only win races solo, which gets harder and harder at higher prestige races.
This means while he can dazzle with solo wins at smaller races like the Tour of Denmark, it becomes almost impossible to ride other world-class riders off his wheel at major events
While some riders have been able to simply grind others off their wheel, Evenepoel will have a harder time with this strategy since he lacks the snap of Julian Alaphilippe or the raw power of these larger riders like Mathieu van der Poel and Fabian Cancellara, due to his extremely lightweight. Evenepoel’s ability to ride solo comes more from his aerodynamic position on the road bike and his efficient pedal stroke, not an absurd surplus of watts.
We got a preview today of the issues this will cause at major events in the future. If he can’t get separation via explosive efforts on climbs, or grind other world-class riders off his wheel, it will be incredibly difficult to get major wins consistently
4) Evenepoel’s lack of race awareness shouldn’t just be a concern about his own chances at Worlds, but will almost certainly affect his teammates, in particular, Wout van Aert.
We already saw at the Olympics that Evenepoel’s “attack now, think later” strategy caused issues for Van Aert, when he was isolated on the final climb when Evenepoel dropped himself after a failed long-range attack. I predict this could cause major issues for Van Aert again at the Flanders 2021 world championships.
The Belgian squad’s cohesiveness should be of major concern for Wout van Aert, since it could be the only thing able to topple the Belgian superstar, who displayed peerless form at the recent Tour of Britain, where he won four individual stages and the overall, despite losing close to half a minute to Ineos’ Ethan Hayter in the team time trial.
Van Aert’s ability to win on both incredibly steep uphill finishes and in sprint finishes at Britain shows a near-unstoppable versatility that will make him nearly unbeatable on the lumpy Flanders 2021 course.
However, one thing that could trip Van Aert up despite his form is a lack of clear strategy and cohesiveness inside of the Belgian team.
5) Marc Hirschi, the breakout star of last season, appears to be back to somewhat close to his dazzling 2020 form.
He finished in 6th place at European Championships after making the front group in an incredibly difficult race and could be an outsider for worlds.
6) Tadej Pogačar finished 5th and made the select front group, but the sight of him being dropped by Evenepoel’s attack was somewhat shocking and doesn’t bode well for his world championship chances.
After winning a second-consecutive Tour de France title and getting 3rd place at the Olympic road race in July, Pogačar has been laying low and taking some deserved time off, so a regression in form would make complete sense.
With worlds still two weeks away, it is theoretically possible that Pogačar could rebuild his form, but in practice, it is incredibly difficult to imagine him building up for another peak after a season that saw him win a Monument, a Tour, and an Olympic medal.
7) Victor Campenaerts has completely revamped his skillset and gone from a tier-two time trial specialist who was struggling to stay in the sport, to a legitimate threat at one-day classics and consistent grand tour stage hunter. And arguably more importantly for his career, he has been using international racing as an opportunity to market himself as super domestique for difficult one-day races.
However, don’t let his selflessness fool you. We shouldn’t totally write Campenaerts off as a darkhorse contender for world championships.
His strength, racecraft and ability to win either solo or from extremely select groups, is starting to make him a potential outside contender in almost every race he starts.
8) It is worth noting that while defending World Champion Julian Alaphilippe’s performances at the Tour of Britain were good, he looked completely outclassed by Van Aert on nearly every course type.
This continues a recent trend of finding himself stuck between not being fast enough to win reduced bunch sprints or strong enough to drop faster riders on climbs. After winning 29 races between 2015-2019, he has only won six times over the past two years.
Of course, one of those wins was the 2020 World Championships, and two others are Tour de France stage wins, so it would be absurd to say he is struggling, but this trend is something to keep an eye on. It is possible Alaphilippe is finding himself squeezed by the slightly younger generation of flex sprinters who also seem to be able to climb with the best.
9) The Dutch federation hasn’t officially confirmed if Mathieu van der Poel will be racing at the world championships, but judging from his performance on Sunday, he certainly looks physically well enough to start the race and significantly shape the action.
10) It is tempting to assume this past weekend’s European Championships gave us a great preview of the world championships, but the complete absence of both Britain or Denmark, which both have riders who will undoubtedly influence the race, means we should take Euros results with a grain of salt.