Van Wilder Stuns Favourites in Tre Valli Varesine, then Slams Soudal-Jumbo Merger

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

Soudal-QuickStep’s 23-year-old Belgian Ilan Van Wilder surprised the likes of Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), Primož Roglič and Richard Carapaz (EF Education-EasyPost) with a bold solo move on the final climb of Tuesday’s Tre Valli Varesine to spring an enormous upset. He then used the victory as a platform to voice his strong disagreement with the imminent merger of his team with Jumbo-Visma.

Speaking to Italian television after the race, Van Wilder said that his winning move was merely intended to put some tempo into the leading group of 10 top riders, which included the two big favourites. “Then I had a gap, so I went full gas. With also my sports director [Davide] Bramati going crazy in the car, saying I have to do a TT to the finish. So I did.”

He added that the weeks since the announcement of the merger had been “difficult for us [Soudal riders]. So this victory was for my teammates to say we don’t agree with all this [obscenity] and we want to continue with Soudal-QuickStep. We are strong enough and I hope it will be like this.” This was the first prominent voice of dissent against the merger, which could put Jumbo’s Jonas Vingegaard, Wout van Aert and Sepp Kuss on the same team as Soudal’s Remco Evenepoel, Julian Alaphilippe and Van Wilder, assuming they remain with the team. Though cycling’s governing body UCI has officially announced the intent of the two teams to join forces, the merger has not been finalised.

Carapaz finished second in the race, 16 seconds behind the winner, while Aleksandr Vlasov (BORA-Hansgrohe) finished third at 18 seconds. The 196.5 km race from Busto Arsizio to Varese kicked into gear after about 50 km when a group of nine riders formed a successful breakaway and quickly built a gap of more than 5 minutes to the peloton. A succession of unsuccessful chase attempts began with 65 km to go when Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal-QuickStep), Pavel Sivakov (Ineos Grenadiers) and eventually Vlasov made a promising move. But all the breakaway attempts were chased down by the peloton, under the impetus of  Pogačar’s UAE Team Emirates and Roglič’s Jumbo-Visma.

In the final breakaway attempt, Italy’s Walter Calzoni (Q36.5 Pro Cycling), the only rider remaining from the original breakaway, was joined by Wilco Kelderman (Jumbo-Visma) and Warren Barguil (Arkéa Samsic). When his two road companions faded, Calzoni continued on his own, completing a bravura performance that, however, was doomed once the group of favourites joined the fray with about 12 km remaining in the race. From then on, it looked very much as if the race would come down to a contest between last year’s Tre Valli winner, Pogačar, and Roglič who won the first of the three Italian autumn one-day races on September 30, the Giro dell’Emilia. But Van Wilder had a better idea, and took advantage of a lack of resolution on the part of the pursuing group to score a historic victory – he is the first Belgian to win the Tre Valli since Eddy Merckx, in 1968 – and stamp himself as a young rider with a big future. Roglič finished fourth, just ahead of fellow Slovenian Pogačar, both 18 seconds behind the winner.

The final and most important Italian autumn one-day race, the Il Lombardia, will be held on Saturday, with most of the same stellar riders taking part. They will be joined by Remco Evenepoel who long ago announced it as one of his late-year targets. The only road superstar missing will be Vingegaard. The Lombardia could be Roglič’s last race for Jumbo-Visma. Before the Giro dell’Emilia, he announced that he would be leaving the team and has since said that he would divulge the name of his future team after Saturday’s race. According to a story in Monday’s Gazzetta dello Sport, that team will be BORA-Hansgrohe where he could have the support of Vlasov and Jay Hindley if they agree to work as his super-domestiques.