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Volta Valencia Breakdown & Tom Pidcock’s Ceiling

The big takeaways from recent stages at Volta Valencia, Etoile de Bessèges & Saudi Tour, plus, wondering what Tom Pidcock's ceiling is, if it even exists at all

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Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana Stage 3

Aleksandr Vlasov won today’s queen stage of the Volta Valencia with a dominating performance on the final climb. The steep pitch, which traversed a significant section of incredibly chunky gravel, provided the perfect launchpad for the young Russian and allowed him to ride clear and into the overall lead 32-seconds in front of the fading Remco Evenepoel, who looked a distant version of the rider that threw down a dominating performance to drop Vlasov on stage 1.

Mini-Race Notes:


2.8km
: When the lead group hits the gravel section halfway up the final climb, Jakob Fuglsang punches it on the front to blow by Jan Tratnik, the lone remnant of the breakaway. We can see Evenepoel, in the yellow leader’s jersey, is sitting too far back, around 7th position, and has to ride the long way around a fading rider in front of him. This causes him to lose precious meters to the front group and invest a large amount of energy just to simply close the gap.

2.6km: Fuglsang is using his mountain bike skills to drill it on the front over the rough and loose surface, while Evenepoel, clearly uncomfortable on the loose surface, dangles a few feet off the back.

1.9km-1.4km: Fuglsang loses his position at the front after overcooking a corner which allows Vlasov to come to the front and drill it. He looks back and sees Evenepoel is letting a slight gap go on his wheel and decides to capitalize on it by stepping on the gas. This smart decision allows him to open up a massive gap as Evenepoel can’t keep pace and the others can’t come around Evenepoel on the narrow, uneven surface.

1km: By the time the group exits the gravel and the other chasers can pass the struggling, and massively overgeared, Evenepoel, Vlasov is clear and can’t be pulled back. He rides away to win the stage by 14 seconds over Ineos’ Carlos Rodriguez and take a commanding overall lead.

GC After Stage 3:
Aleksandr Vlasov —
Remco Evenepoel +32
Carlos Rodriguez +36

Takeaways:

Aleksandr Vlasov rode the gravel section incredibly well and did a great job of putting Evenepoel under pressure.

  • He seemed to notice Evenepoel was overgeared on the gravel, spun away to force a gap, which then put Evenepoel and the chasers under serious pressure when they entered the final paved kilometer.

Jakob Fuglsang, the ex-pro mountain biker, looked incredibly comfortable early on the gravel but appeared to get a little too confident and overcooked a corner.

  • In my opinion, Fuglsang showed every bit of his 36 years of age on this stage. Even just two seasons ago, he would have ridden away from the rest on the gravel section.

Remco Evenepoel clearly struggled to get comfortable, and even just to find traction, on the steep gravel section. These troubles with off-road sections follow the trend from last year’s Giro d’Italia, where he suffered a collapse on stage 11.

  • Even outside his struggles on the gravel section, he looked like he simply didn’t have it physically. I would guess this is due to an inability to recover after the immense effort he put out on stage 1.
  • Evenepoel has won difficult one-week stage races before in his career, so perhaps these struggles signal that he simply isn’t yet in prime form, which at this early point in the season, is a positive.

A New Cofidis Rises at Etoile de Bessèges

Stage 3:
Bryan Coquard wins in an uphill sprint over Mads Pedersen to get his first win since the 2020 season.

  • This is a big win for Cofidis, both emotionally and logistically, since it nets them valuable UCI points during their 2022 relegation battle.
  • This has to be a huge confidence boost for the 29-year-old Coquard, who, despite bursting onto the scene at this race as a 20-year-old, has still yet to win a single WorldTour race.

Stage 4:
Benjamin Thomas rides to an impressive solo win over Alberto Bettiol and Tobias Halland Johannessen from the Uno-X team.

  • Thomas already proves he was an incredible pick-up by Cofidis.
  • The team is already off to one of their best starts in years. And with the relegation battle so tight in 2022, this matters.
  • Alberto Bettiol put in another good ride and appears to have timed his form perfectly. Isn’t coming in overcooked, but is clearly starting the season fit.
  • Halland Johannessen puts in a great ride to get 3rd and yet again, Uno-X proves they are the world’s best semi-development team.

Saudi Tour

Stage 3:
Dylan Groenewegen won the bunch sprint ahead of Dan McLay and Caleb Ewan to get his first win on BikeExchange.

Stage 4:
Maxim Van Gils, the 22-year-old on Lotto-Soudal, won today’s stage 4 of the Saudi Tour, the queen stage, in impressive fashion.

  • This is the first, and most notable, win of the young Belgian’s career. He rode clear on a painfully steep pitch 9kms from the finish line.
  • Lotto has won half of the stages at the Saudi Tour so far and is clearly coming into this season with urgency. With a 36-second gap over Santiago Buitrago on Bahrain, they are in the driver’s seat to take the overall win after tomorrow’s final stage.

Lotto & Cofidis Aren’t Messing Around

Lotto-Soudal and Cofidis, both of which are in danger of being relegated from the WorldTour after the 2022 season, have clearly gotten the message and are coming out swinging in 2022 and using these early races to rack up wins and valuable UCI points. For example, only a month into the season, Lotto already has four wins, compared to a total of 12 throughout the entire 2021 season.

WorldTour Team Win Totals For Far in 2022

What Is Tom Pidcock’s Road Racing Ceiling?

In the days following Tom Pidcock’s highly impressive ride to his first Cyclocross World title (which an on-the-ground correspondent tells me was directly followed by a deep economy flight to New York City), I’ve found myself wondering just exactly what the limit to the 22-year-old’s talents are if there are any at all.

A recent piece over on CyclingTips wondered if Pidcock could win the nearly-impossible World Championship Treble (CX, MTB & Road) in 2022, and while this is an absurd feat that has never been accomplished in the Men’s division before (Pauline Ferrand-Prévot won all three world titles on the Women’s side but in different years), Pidcock is so talented that one could argue that this isn’t even a far-fetched possibility, but simply a matter of catching a few in-race breaks.

After his dominant win in the Mountain Bike Race at the Tokyo Olympics, impressive ride at the 2021 Road Race World Championships, and his recent ride at the 2022 CX worlds, the answer is without a doubt yes. Of course, the stars aligning for a rider to win three world titles in a single year is incredibly unlikely, but it is certainly within the realm of possibility. And with one already done and a favorable Roads course awaiting, I wouldn’t be completely shocked if it happens in 2022.

Pidcock has the technical skills and engine to dominate both CX and MTB for as long as he wants, but I think the bigger question is what the young British star can accomplish on the road.

At this point, this question is almost purely speculative, since Pidcock’s road palmares currently only has a single win, the 2021 De Brabantse Pijl.

Tom Pidcock Professional Road Career Highlights:
1 Win: De Brabantse Pijl
3 Podiums: Kuurne – Bruxelles – Kuurne, Amstel Gold Race, De Brabantse Pijl
7 Top Tens: World Championship Road Race, Fleche-Wallonne, Strade Bianche, Vuelta a España Stage 14, Kuurne – Bruxelles – Kuurne, Amstel Gold Race, De Brabantse Pijl

WorldTour (+ WC Events) Palmares:
0 Wins
2 Podiums
5 Top Tens

This would be decent Palmares for an early-career classics contender, but Pidcock accomplished all of this in a single season, and one in which he wasn’t even following focused on-road cycling. His explosive power and lightweight frame mean he could easily return in 2022 and win a handful of these one-day races, and potentially even Monuments like Sanremo, Lombardia, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

The only potential limit to Pidcock’s one-day classics success is the same thing that allows him to be a competitor at the three hilliest Monuments: his extremely-light weight. At 58 kilograms, he would have to become one of the lightest riders to ever win Flanders, and the lightest rider ever to win Paris-Roubaix. Out of respect to Pidcock’s immense talent, I wouldn’t say this is impossible, but at least at his current weight, it seems unlikely.

Can He Win Grand Tours?

Past Results:
2021 Vuelta a España: 67th place overall

The first thing I should state is that to win grand tours Pidcock would almost certainly have to give up his off-road racing career. Modern grand tours require a contender’s full attention and the training is nearly year-round. It is difficult to imagine any rider, no matter their talent, being able to race even reduced CX and MTB schedules while chasing overall wins at grand tours.

While Pidcock doesn’t have any professional stage race results, he does have a pretty good amateur stage racing pedigree. This isn’t incredibly applicable to grand tours, but it does show us that he has the ability to manage efforts over multiple stages and recover between efforts. He is also on the team with the best grand tour track record in the peloton and is in dire need of a top-tier contender. All of this combines to create a possibility of a shift to grand tours.

At the professional level, the most important component of a GC contender is the ability to time trial. While climbing ability on the major mountain stages gets all the attention, that is just table stakes. Grand tours are won and lost in the time trials.

So, for any young aspiring grand tour contender, their ability against the clock is paramount. Pidcock has almost no track record of success in professional time trials but was the junior world champion back in 2017. This means that even though he lacks any real elite results, he almost certainly has the physical tools (sustained power and aerodynamic position on the bike) to develop into a top-tier GC time trialist if he wants to.

This last point, the want, is likely the factor that will define and limit what Pidcock can, and cannot, achieve in his road career. While the sport is awash in almost mind-blowing talents like Tadej Pogačar, Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert, Pidcock was a millimeter away from winning Amstel Gold against these talents at 21-years-old during a season that he was splitting between two other disciplines, and would go onto become an Olympic gold medalist in a completely different sport. It is hard to overstate just how special of a talent it takes to accomplish this, and it means that Pidcock can probably achieve nearly anything he puts his mind to in the hyper-competitive world of road cycling.