Thursday, April 19, 2018

Liege Bastogne Liege U23 & ZLM Tour Roundup

Ciao Come stai?

Been a while hasn't it? I've been trying to write something for the past few days but it has been so long that I don't really know where to start. This weekend seems like a good
place to begin this journey where I left it off a little over a year ago. Komm mit mir alle meine Entchen.

Actually before I get into this, I want to talk about the clusterfuck that is the U23 calendar. While they are about the most polar opposite when it comes to courses, there is no reason why the ZLM Tour which is a UCI Nations Cup needs to be run on the same day as Liege Bastonge Liege U23. The issue being is that there is no unified U23/Development calendar so you end up with the ZLM Tour, which is a Nations Cup that brings in national teams and LBL U23, which is a standard 1.2U race that can invite whatever team they like. So if you look at the pack fill in the ZLM Tour, you see some riders like Tadej Pogacar and Gino Mäder, both of whom would be very good in a hilly race like LBL U23 but because their teams can’t sniff an invite, they get to ride in Zeeland. 

On this whole topic, why couldn't there be a full Ardennes week for U23 riders? Really, you could work the ZLM Tour and Amstel Gold into one weekend and then the infrastructure is in place for Flèche Wallone, which would be the most boring U23 of the race (kidding…sort of). The week could end off with LBL U23, which if it ended up like this edition would leave people like me a bit confused about what to make of the results but in any case would make a nice aperitif to the men’s race.

Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23

Without going through the race blow by blow, the LBL U23 this year was shaped by the large breakaway that got away fairly early on in the race that had riders from all of the big teams including multiples from Hagens Berman Axeon, CC Etupes and Lotto Soudal U23 plus representatives from SEG Racing, Subweb Development, Colpack and Wiggins among others.

The chasing in the pack didn't have a concerted effort with only Riwal and AGO-Aqua Service being the only ones making a dent into the breakaways advantage.

Proceedings in the finale were kicked off by Alexys Brunel (CC Etupes), who attacked the breakaway just before the Cote des Forges with Brunelian fury and carved out a decent gap on them. 

Brunel, who was French U23 TT Champion last year and is a former European Junior TT Champ, worked his gap to the breakaway up to nearly 1 minute before they slowly started to reel him back on the Saint-Nicolas climb. Coming into the final 10km, the peloton was still 45 seconds back while Joao Almeida jumped to connect with Brunel and brought young Andrea Bagioli with him.

Almeida was suel en tete not long after this happened with Brunel and Bagioli not far behind while the breakaway stragglers were still in between them and peloton. The issue being here was that riders from Lotto, SEG and Sunweb were still in the breakaway group so the likes of Marc Hirschi, Stan Dewulf and Harm Vanhoucke couldn't make any moves.

In the end, Almeida's gap kept growing and was able to take a beautiful solo win in the Liege velodrome while the first year U23 Bagioli outsprinted the diesel Brunel for 2nd place. The disappointed peloton absorbed the remnants of the breakaway and came sprinting across for 4th place led in by Ide Schelling along with the two big favorites in Marc Hirschi and Stan Dewulf.

The big losers from the race had to be Lotto-Soudal, who had 5 riders in the top 13 but nothing on the podium do to not wanting to chase down their teammates in the breakaway even though their best options were in Dewulf, Vanhoucke and Julian Mertens. Still, they obviously have talent to spare and putting 5 in the top 13 is still an impressive feat. Onto the next one for them.

Not to take anything away from João Almeida’s win but I would still take this win as a grain of salt. Would he have been able to do this if Lotto-Soudal decided to chase the breakaway down early and play their strong hand in Dewulf? This is a special race because of the large breakaway and even representation of teams so while Hagens Berman Axeon can celebrate, Lotto will learn from their mistake.

ZLM Tour

I do not know what it is but for whatever reason, I’m not sold on Matteo Moschetti. While he has an in at Trek-Segafredo where he is signed up for next year, before this year he didn’t really do a ton to impress. Yes, he is the reigning U23 Italian RR Champion but for every Gianni Moscon winning that race, you get a Andrea Zordan. I wasn’t expecting much from him at the ZLM Tour, which is historically known to be a windy affair that has some great echelons and a reduced bunch sprint. To be honest, I predicted him to be 47th.

Well he wasn’t 47th. He won. In a big bunch sprint, the biggest sprint that has made it to the line here in years so with the lack of wind, there is still some unknowns left in his game. Can he actually make it through echelons? Can he get over climbs? He got his doors blown off at the U23 Ronde van Vlaanderen but he did pretty well at the Tour of Normandie, at least in the stages that were for the pure sprinters.

Yes, he is very fast. But the out and out fastest? He beat Jakub Mareczko in one sprint this year but otherwise, there isn’t many huge names.

The race was mainly shaped by a three man breakaway in Jon Bozic (Slovenia), Guillaume Millasseau (France) and Stefan Bisseger (Switzerland). They got away just before the halfway point of the race and made a serious attempt to take their breakaway to the line. Millasseau was 2nd in the Paris-Roubaix Espoirs last year while Bisseger is a record holder in the 3km pursuit on the junior level. The trio took a gap into the final kilometer before being swallowed up by the Italian-driven peloton.

Moschetti started his sprint early and was able to boss everyone else, taking the win against Sacha Weemans (who is having a really good spring) and the ever present Max Kanter, who was also 2nd in the Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 (and also my pick to win the race). Pierre Barbier continued a good year in 4th while Ziga Jerman is backing up his Gent-Wevelgem win with some good sprinting results like his 5th here.

The only disappointment with this race was the lack of soul-crushing wind that usually breaks it up here but otherwise, it was a good showing for the fast men. Perhaps there will be a time when I stop ragging on Matteo Moschetti but after being disappointed so many times in recent years by Italian sprinters like Andrea Guardini, Andrea Zordan, Nicolas Marini and to a lesser extent Jakub Mareczko, who is clearly fast but cannot translate that to the World Tour, I am just very hesitant to heap the praise on him, especially as he has more or less came on in the last year to 7 wins in the first half of his final U23 season.

I will try to do some write ups to catch up with some of the season that has already happened while this weekend is a bit of a relief for most U23s though some will be racing in Croatia, Alps, the Visegrad races plus the GP Industria & Commercio in San Vendemiano.

See you soon