MvdP, Pogačar, the Rise of Long-Range Attacks, and the Classics Teams That Made Waves This Spring

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Highlights & Lessons From the 2024 Spring ClassicsDario Belingheri - Getty Images

Another season of Spring Classics is in the books. The pavé is quiet, as is the Forest of Ardennes.

But just as we do every year, this year’s Classics showed us so much about the racers we love to watch, about the way bikes are raced today, and about what we might expect as we continue on into Grand Tour season with il Giro d’Italia, le Tour de France, and la Vuelta a España.

So, what did we learn from 2024’s Spring Classics?

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The Two Maestros and the Rise of Long-Range Attacks

Looking back on this year’s Classics, two of cycling’s big names stood above the rest, as Mathieu van der Poel and Tadej Pogačar demonstrated that, when they’re on form, they can operate at a level that is simply head-and-shoulders above their competition. There were even times when both superstars looked like they were out for a weekend training ride rather than competing in arguably the most brutal and demanding race on the WorldTour calendar.

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Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) prior to the 110th Liege - Bastogne - Liege 2024Dario Belingheri - Getty Images

Let’s take Paris-Roubaix, where for just under 60 kilometers, the Dutchman was in a class of his own, literally and figuratively. It then turned out to be the fastest-ever edition of Paris-Roubaix, with Van der Poel finishing at an absolutely jaw-dropping 29.7 miles per hour—he did have a tailwind in the end. Still, that number remains impressive when you consider how much of Van der Poel’s ride was essentially a solo time trial.

For Pogi, his pair of long-range attacks, 81 kilometers at Strade Bianche—the most dominant employment of the tactic so far—and 35 kilometers at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, were simply stunning on their own, especially considering that, in both instances, he told the world exactly where he was planning to attack, and still, there was nothing anyone could do to stop him.

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Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) attacks the breakaway during the 18th Strade Bianche 2024.Tim de Waele - Getty Images

These stand out because, in the past, solo, long-range attacks have been characteristic of underdog riders who are just trying to beat the odds when going against a group of heavy hitters. But it seems that these heroic attacks have seemingly grown more common amongst race favorites over the past few seasons. But why is this?

This could be because, unlike in generations past, today’s peloton races from the drop of the flag. There is no prelude, no preamble, or lead into the final 30, 40, or 50 km when the real fireworks usually start. The action starts from the word “go,” and sometimes, the only way to avoid the chaos and stay safe is for the strongest riders to get the heck out of Dodge and put as much space between them and the pack as possible.

The newsletter The Outerline further expands on this point and offers their own theory:

Solo attacks have won 11 out of the last 14 Monuments, and a remarkable seven out of the last eight monuments. While it would be easy to pin the rise of long-range solo attacks on the raw talent of these superstars, their rise has actually started to occur since the current “Top Six era” began. In fact, the first five combined monument wins between Pogačar and Van der Poel were won out of small groups, whereas the last seven have come from solo attacks – all in the last two seasons. While some of this may be due to a change in tactics (e.g., the best riders realizing it isn’t in their interest to allow lesser competitors to hang around until late in the race) or advances in training and nutrition, it is more likely mostly due to the fact that these Top Six elite riders don’t actually face off against one another that often – a problem that we have lamented many times before

Alpecin-Deceuninck Is a Classics Team—And So Is Lidl-Trek

Whether they have stated this or not, results show that Alpecin-Deceuninck is a fully-fledged classics team. So far this season, the Belgian team has won three of the five Monuments: Milano-Sanremo with Jasper Philipsen, Tour of Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix with the reigning World Champion. This leaves Il Lombardia waiting to be checked off their list—one of two Monuments that Van der Poel has not won or podiumed at yet.

Their performance at Paris-Roubaix was masterful. The caffeine-shampoo-loving team controlled the cobbled classic from beginning to end, and their dominance was further accentuated by former Gravel World Champion Gianni Vermeesh’s sixth place at the race.

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Jasper Philipsen and Mathieu van der Poel of Alpecin-Deceuninck and Mads Pedersen of Lidl-Trek on the podium of the 2024 Paris-Roubaix.DAVID PINTENS - Getty Images

Now, let’s take a better look at Lidl-Trek, a team that doubles up in talent with strong men’s and women’s squads. After Elisa Balsamo’s sprint dominance in the early spring and a second-place finish at Paris-Roubaix Femmes, followed by Mads Pedersen’s win at Ghent Wevelgem and his third-place finish at Paris-Roubaix, it’s safe to say that Lidl-Trek is the team no one saw coming in such sharp form this year.

Don’t get me wrong—Lidl-Trek is an elite team on the WorldTour level. So it’s not like we’re talking about some totally green crew who just moved up from the Continental circuit and is suddenly taking it to the big leagues. But going into this season, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who predicted Lidl-Trek would show as much strength and capability as they have throughout the Classics thus far.

Their 2024 results also include wins at Tour de la Provence and Etoile de Bessèges, second-place finishes at Strade Bianche, E3 Saxo Classic, and Cadel Evans Road Race, third at Paris-Roubaix and Itzulia Basque Country, and fourth at Paris-Nice and Milano-Sanremo.

Tom Pidcock Is Who We Thought He Was

After winning Amstel Gold, Tom Pidcock has finally established himself as one of the world’s great road racers. Despite the fact that the Brit had already won Strade Bianche, Brabantse Pijl, and a Tour de France stage, it seemed like the cycling world’s jury was still out on whether or not Pidcock would ever fully live up to the hype that followed him into the WorldTour. But with the success of young stars like Pogačar and Vingegaard, it’s easy to forget that these things normally take time. After all, Pidcock is only 24 years old, and he is just won of cycling’s most prestigious races.

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Tiesj Benoot (Visma | Lease a Bike), Marc Hirschi (UAE Team Emirates), and Thomas Pidcock (INEOS Grenadiers) sprint at the finish line of the 58th Amstel Gold Race 2024.Luc Claessen - Getty Images

Hold Your Applause Until the En—

It happened again. And, let’s be honest, it’s going to continue to happen.

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Lorena Wiebes (SD Worx-Protime) celebrates early, while Marianne Vos (Visma | Lease a Bike) crosses in first place at the finish of Amstel Gold Race Ladies Edition 2024.Luc Claessen - Getty Images

But knowing as much doesn’t make it any less brutal to watch a rider’s victory snatched from them because they celebrated too early. This time, it was SD Worx-Protime’s Lorena Wiebes, who raised her arms in celebration just a few meters too soon, allowing Visma-Lease a Bike’s Marianne Vos to nip her at the line at Amstel Gold.

The loss was even more wrenching because, as a sprinter, she’s not expected to contest the hilly Amstel Gold parcour. This very well may have been her only shot at an Amstel Gold win. That said, she does ride for the strongest team in the bunch, which makes Wiebes an impossible out anytime she lines up.

Major Crashes Reshape the Landscape

Crashes are a part of bike racing. No amount of interjection from any organizing body is going to change that. But I can’t remember a spring season that so deeply impacted the summer as this one.

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A general view of the peloton waiting on the road in Olaeta, Spain, after the neutralization of the race due to multiple crashes during the 63rd Itzulia Basque Country 2024, Stage 4.Tim de Waele - Getty Images

The biggest loss is unquestionably Wout van Aert, whose crash at Dwars door Vlaanderen kept him from racing his two biggest goals this year: Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders. It will also keep him out of the Giro, which Van Aert has been vocally targeting since last year.

Meanwhile, his teammate and two-time reigning Tour de France champion Jonas Vingegaard’s summer is in doubt after suffering a horrific crash at Itzulia Basque Country, which left him hospitalized for twelve days.

That crash also collected Remco Evenepoel, Primož Roglič, and Jay Vine, amongst others, drastically rewriting the season’s script going forward.

Come on, man.

And the last thing we learned during 2024’s Spring Classics?

There’s always going to be an *sshole.

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