Demi Vollering? Imagine a full one! | a 2023 spring classics recap

Some people really don’t like surprises. These people will no doubt be lapping up the 2023 road cycling season thus far.

Let’s start with the women’s races and specifically 2021 Liege-Bastogne-Liege and La Course winner, Demi Vollering, who has – let’s not beat about the bush – won everything.

Okay, not everything. She came second in the Tour of Flanders and apparently took that as a sign that the cobbles weren’t for her because as far as I can tell she sat out Paris-Roubaix the week after.

That kept her fresh for the trio of races that comprise Ardennes Week though, all of which she won. Throw in Strade Bianche a few weeks earlier and the Dutch rider has had a sufficiently good early season that she probably doesn’t need to bother with the middle and end of it now.

Vollering’s countryman, Mathieu van der Poel, went about things slightly differently. After winning Milan-Sanremo, he too finished second in the Tour of Flanders, but instead of sitting out Roubaix, he entered and won it, sidestepping the punctures and crashes that afflicted his rivals. Paris-Roubaix is a race where luck often plays a part, but generally speaking only a small handful of riders are in a position to take advantage of it.

Two other familiar names also enjoyed the one-day racing period. Tadej Pogacar threatened to do a Vollering in the Ardennes when he won Amstel Gold and La Fleche Wallonne, but then came a cropper in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and fractured his wrist. However, against all odds, he had already managed to raise a reputation that has long since exited the troposphere by triumphing on the short, brutal, cobbled uphills of the Tour of Flanders.

His method was simple: every single time the road tilted up, he tried to hurt everyone as much as possible.

In this instance ‘as much as possible’ equated to ‘more than anyone else could take’.

Tour de France winners don’t win in Flanders. It’s just too horrible a race for those accustomed to rarefied Alpine and Pyrenean air. The only other riders to have won both races were Louison Bobet in 1955 and, entirely inevitably, Eddy Merckx, who was famously possessed of something of a ‘can do’ attitude when it came to the winning of bike races.

At times like this, Pogacar seems invincible. If that’s an odd thing to say about a rider who didn’t actually win the Tour last time around, it’s a reflection of his intimidating all-round ability. Jonas Vingegaard peaks for July, but his rival just seems to career through the whole season, beasting people off his wheel whenever he feels like it.

Liege-Bastogne-Liege was obviously an exception, which deprived us of a rare opportunity to see him against someone who is developing a similar modus operandi – world champion and Vuelta a Espana winner Remco Evenepoel, who also won this race last year and duly won it again.

As so often seems to be the case, Evenepoel gave everyone a full vollering and rode the last 30km alone. Another very familiar name, Primoz Roglic, looks like being his only obvious threat at the Giro d’Italia from next Saturday onwards. The Giro’s a long three weeks though, so who knows, maybe that’s where predictability finally parts ways with 2023.

You can get a recap of that race from me by signing up for this website’s email. Whether I do that as one single article or in weekly instalments rather depends on that tired old distraction, “other things”. Either way, sign up and you’ll get whatever materialises.