Tadej Pogačar rode off to win the Clasica Jaén Paraiso Interior, leaving others in the dust (photo from Gomez Sport / race website). Yes it’s only a 1.1 race in February so just one thought rather than exhaustive analysis: UAE are riding much better as a team and their recruitment is starting to pay dividends. We saw this with Pogačar’s previous race, Lombardia but the new hires should reinforce this. Good news for him but for neutrals seeing a team riding a grand tour in train formation might be less inspiring.
UAE also go top of the UCI rankings for the year as of today, finally knocking Intemarché-Circus-Wanty off the top spot. The “musketeers” had been leading thanks to wins in Majorca and Valencia and placings and scrapping for points and placings as they did so well last season. There’s not much to report on the three year ranking as it’s very early. Astana lag like last year but surprisingly Alpecin-Deceuninck, still winless, have only 108 points when normally their sprinter-heavy team is good at results, they were once reliant on Mathieu van der Poel but really are not anymore. They’ll surely pick up but have had a slow start.
The women’s rankings are more pressing of course as World Tour licences are up for grabs for the top-15 teams. UAE’s development team has two asterisks, built out of the Valcar team it collects their points from last year but won’t be moving up as you can’t have a main team and a development team together and so the red line is drawn after the sixteenth place. The other asterisks teams are second-tier pro teams looking to move up. As you can see among the promotion contenders Ceratizit-WNT are off to a decent start in their promotion quest, Human Powered Health even better as they try to stay up. Meanwhile current World Tour team Israel-PremierTech-Roland face the drop.
Staying with women’s cycling and the Giro d’Italia Femminile and the men’s U23 Giro have both been awarded to RCS for the coming years. This should bring more capacity and support to the women’s race and the chance for RCS to “cross sell”, where towns that want the men’s Giro with its established large audience are encouraged to take on another race as well. We see ASO doing this where towns hoping for the big ticket of a Tour de France stage are steered to holding a stage of Paris-Nice, the Dauphiné where geographically possible, and now the Tour de France Femmes. Also one often underappreciated skill of grand tour organisers is they way they’re really plugged into regional and local government, a big network of contacts to help build the route and get the roads closed for the race.
Kool as a cabbage
The women’s UAE Tour saw two stage wins from Charlotte Kool, the apprentice trouncing her former master Lorena Wiebes each time, although a crash for Wiebes the first time and a powerful headwind the other time probably explain plenty too. Kool is an obvious delight for headline writers in English…but of course it means “cabbage” in Dutch.
Say it right
On the subject of names, Matteo Jorgenson won Stage 3 of the Tour of Oman yesterday. It’s with a hard-J, “Jaw-genson” rather than “Yorgenson”. And FDJ-Groupama’s neo-pro Paul Penhoët has a string of top-10s to his name already, his name is said “Pen-wet”. There’s a nice anecdote to share about Penhoët but that’s for the day he wins.
Arkéa vs Cofidis
Arkéa has extended sponsorship of the Arkéa-Samsic team until the end of 2025. It’ll keep the team on the road and presumably help them made additional signings if necessary. Arkéa? It’s a banking brand in Brittany and South-West France. Curiously it belongs to the Crédit Mutuel banking group, of which consumer credit company Cofidis is also a part. So here we have one bank with two World Tour teams? Normally teams can’t share owners and there’s even a page on the UCI website to list teams that can’t race together for fear of collusion, eg Groupama-FDJ and Groupama-FDJ Conti development team. The answer for Arkéa and Cofidis is that Crédit Mutuel is only a loose umbrella for these entities, they’ve got different management, offices and crucially even compete against each other for some consumers. In fact it’s got to the point where Arkéa’s been causing trouble for the wider group as it wants more independence, a spat in the otherwise sleepy world of rural banking. Still, for now, it makes Crédit Mutuel a big backer of pro cycling and with Ag2r and Groupama as other big sponsors, France’s mutual finance sector is all over pro cycling.
The Vanishing Paper
Arkéa-Samsic’s a team with red kit and was down to seven riders when it was raided by police during the 2020 Tour de France, a similar situation for the Bahrain team in 2021 when they too had red kit, seven riders and a gendarme roust. Anyway, remember the academic journal that had a paper proclaiming how it found traces of tizanidine, a muscle-relaxing medicine in samples from three cyclists competing in “international three week cyclist race in France”? Well an eagle-eyed reader points out that this paper has been retracted, jargon for binned. The testing method might be valid but the privacy concerns meant you didn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce the team involved and this was a probably a breach of academic procedure, great that they could detect this substance from hair samples but they didn’t need to explain in such detail who they got it from. It doesn’t mean much for the sport and the police investigation rumbles on slowly, the substance involved isn’t banned by WADA but it is closely-regulated in France and so any team doctor carrying it and dispensing it might have some explaining to do.
EPO in a pill
Staying with pharma, GSK has got US approval for Daprodustat, a pill that “increases endogenous production of erythropoietin”, the hormone that promotes red blood cell growth. In plain English, EPO in a pill. For too long in pro cycling a lot of riders and team staff spent time, energy and money acquiring and transporting EPO, a furtive cold chains. Now it comes as a tiny pill, presumably a lot easier for genuine anaemics with a clinical need who don’t have to inject themselves which is the main point of course. If it’s convenient for patients, it’s much less so for dodgy dopers. It is already on the WADA banned list, in part because of collaboration between GSK and WADA. Easy to consume, easy to detect.
Pogačar vs Vingegaard in March?
To finish on a more optimistic note, let’s circle back to Pogačar who’s changed his racing plans this season in order to find new challenges and stay fresh both physically and mentally. L’Equipe writes this might include doing Paris-Nice rather than his habitual Tirreno-Adriatico, if so this raises the possibility of an early clash with Jonas Vingegaard. The Dane took the Tour with some fine individual riding and the backing of a very strong team, now we’ll see if they can do it again on a wet Wednesday in the Auvergne? We’ll see, Pogačar’s not certain for Paris-Nice and if he is then Jumbo-Visma may think about their plans in the light of this.