Jumbo-Visma is on fire in the early 2022 season, taking another impressive win in the E3 Saxo Bank Classic. Wout van Aert launched a destructive attack on the Paterberg with only Christophe Laporte, Van Aert’s teammate, able to follow the Belgian national champion. The Jumbo duo were uncatchable as they won the race by an impressive margin (1:35) over the chasing group, with Van Aert finishing first.
The race exploded with 80 km to go when Jumbo-Visma with Wout van Aert in the front blew the peloton apart on the Taaienberg climb (0.7 km, 6.1%). Only the strongest riders could follow Van Aert’s monster surge on this cobbled climb where Quickstep had launched an assault for Asgreen last year. Van Aert was joined by two Jumbo-Visma teammates, Christophe Laporte and Tiesj Benoot, who joined the team this off-season and are already paying dividends to Jumbo-Visma. They are both arguably the best transfers of the 2022 season. Other riders who made the split in the 7 man group were Kasper Asgreen, Stefan Küng, Matej Mohorič and Jasper Stuyven. An elite 7 man group but the question was whether they would cooperate.
The biggest losers were INEOS and AG2R, who both missed the move. INEOS chased actively with multiple riders as they were the strongest team to miss the split. Quick-Step in the cobble classics has not looked good so far in 2022 despite the presence of Asgreen in the group. The biggest difference between the last year is the absence of Julian Alaphilippe, who is skipping the cobble classics to prepare for the Ardennes. Štybar, Ballerini, Honore and Senechal could not deliver today and left Asgreen as the only option for Quick-Step.
The breakaway was eventually caught and only Daniel Oss could stick longer to the strong group. It was surprising to see Van Aert doing a lot of work in the first group as he had two teammates with him however riders from other teams were cooperating with Jumbo to a degree.
INEOS’ efforts with chasing paid-off when Narvaez launched on the Eikenberg (1.2 km, 5.1%) and bridged to the leading group with multiple riders. There were multiple attacks before the Paterberg (0.4 km, 9%), but nothing stuck. It was clear something would happen on the steepest hill of the race, which comes with 42 km to go. Benoot led-out Van Aert with a full gas effort at the first part of the hill. When Van Aert launched, no one could follow the Belgian except his teammate Laporte who himself lost 5 or 6 bike lengths. Jumbo-Visma ended the race on the Paterberg, quickly gaining over a 25-second lead over the other main contenders.
21-year-old Biniam Girmay was closest to the Jumbo duo, but he did not have enough power to follow the powerful move. Before the Paterberg, after catching the first group, he attacked, but after a moment stopped as he probably realized he was wasting energy. This was the first cobble classic race of Girmay’s career, which makes it more impressive as usually it is hard to fight for the position before the climbs on the narrow roads, especially with a little experience. One year ago Girmay was racing for the French pro conti team DELKO, after getting overlooked by World-Tour teams.
Laporte and Van Aert increased their gap over the chasing group gradually. Probably even if the 2nd group would cooperate fully, the Jumbo duo could never be caught. Laporte was already gifted a win on Paris-Nice stage 1, where he with teammates, Van Aert and Primož Roglič, finished 1-2-3. It was a race in Belgium, and it was clear Van Aert had to be the winner as he was wearing the Belgium champion kit.
It was the second big classics win of the season by Van Aert, after winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. There is a decent chance he might become the first rider to win Ronde van Vlaanderen and Omloop in the same season. E3 is basically Ronde van Vlaanderen, but 60 kilometres shorter and with a different name. It is very often that riders win these both races in the same season. Since 2010 it has done five times, Asgreen (2021), Terpstra (2018), Cancellara (2010, 2013), Boonen (2012).
Stefan Küng finished third as he launched a late attack and no one reacted in the chasing group. Milano-Sanremo winner Matej Mohorič was the fastest in the bunch sprint as he beat Girmay, who earned 180 UCI points, which will be cruicial for Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert in the fight to avoid relegation.