Spin Cycle: Alejandro Valverde vs the spirit of gravel

Ahead of Roubaix, here's something we've cobbled together.

Jonny Long
by Jonny Long 07.04.2023 Photography by
Unsplashed, Cor Vos, Movistar/GOBIK
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The Spin Cycle is the Escape Collective’s news digest, published every Monday and Friday. You can read it on this website (obviously) or have it delivered straight to your inbox. You can sign up here.


Welcome back to Spin Cycle! The Escape Collective’s news digest.

We’ve had Flanders, now it’s time for Roubaix. This Easter weekend the riders of the peloton will likely experience something similar to the last days of Jesus. A final meal amongst friends before one of them stabs you in the back, followed by a never-ending journey over rough roads until eventually you are so done that there is nothing you’d rather do than go lie down in a dark cave with a massive rock rolled in front of it so no-one can disturb you. That analogy was brought to you by 18 years of Catholic schooling, so blame them.

In other risen-from-the-dead-esque escapades, Mark Cavendish, Alejandro Valverde and Audrey Cordon-Ragot are all back. Very fitting. Well done to the cycling universe for conspiring to produce apt anologies for this introduction.

Photo: Cor Vos

Rejoice! The Cavendish Tour countdown has begun!

Here we go, Mark Cavendish came third in a reasonable sprint field and so now we all get to re-ignite the number 35 conversation during the remaining 85 days until the start of the Tour de France.

“Of course I wanted to win, but it’s about more than a result,” Cavendish said of his third place at Scheldeprijs behind Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Sam Welsford (DSM).

“We are trying to get the sprint train on track with Astana and that is starting to work. You know it’s going to be chaos, especially if the racing isn’t fast due to circumstances. I had to start sprinting from a bit too far, but the teammates did well. I am happy, finishing third is not bad. July is still a long way off. I will continue to do my best, but I am still racing to win.”

Following his third place on the opening stage of this year’s UAE Tour, it’s Cavendish’s best result of the season. We can only imagine it’s because he’s been freed from wearing team-mandated Scicon glasses for his favoured Oakleys that he was able to summon such speeds. And instead of shouting at team mechanics, he can now simply shoot laser beams out of his Katos directly into their retinas when the bike set-up isn’t to his liking. Marginal gains and all that.

Feed Zone ?

?? Despite his fall in the Tour of Flanders, Peter Sagan is fit enough to line up for his final Paris-Roubaix appearance.

? Wout van Aert called Adri van der Poel’s designation of the Belgian as the favourite for Paris-Roubaix “almost laughable”. Van Aert’s waspishness may be explained by the lingering pain of injuries sustained in his Tour of Flanders crash.

? Jumbo-Visma Women’s manager Esra Tromp will leave the team at the end of May.

? A bird pooped on Van der Poel’s head during Scheldeprijs, which the Dutchman then reported live to Sporza’s motorbike camera. Good luck ahead of Roubaix?

?? Filippo Ganna has described Paris-Roubaix as ‘Russian roulette’, and thus faces the risk of sanction by the UCI. The sports governing body will likely insist that he just refers to PR as ‘roulette’ and then just put a Russian flag sticker on his bike instead.

?️ Gianni Moscon is considering lining up for Paris-Roubaix the day after he finishes Itzulia Basque Country. His transportation method is not yet confirmed but he could use his annual pass to the tunnel through the underworld to make the journey smoother.

Lukewarm rider quote of the week

“I am 100 per cent ready for Paris-Roubaix.”

He’s double-checked the start time, made sure his socks are packed, and Mathieu van der Poel is now ready for Paris-Roubaix.

At the very least we should give the Pineapple Dutchman some credit he didn’t say he was 110 per cent ready, eschewing the mathematics used by maladjusted Pop Idol contestants to simply claim that there is a bike race he is riding on Sunday and he is ready for it. Really, we should be thanking Mathieu for the concise transfer of information.

What will end first, the spirit of gravel or Alejandro Valverde’s racing career?

When Alejandro Valverde announced his retirement last year it was met with a collective eye roll from the cycling world. Sure, Alejandro, adios. We should have been better at connecting the dots because, obviously, the next evolution of Valverde’s career would be as the latest constituent part of The Spirit of Gravel™.

The red herring was the disbelief that Movistar would be the next WorldTour outfit to pivot to off-road racing. Movistar. As well as members of Movistar’s eTeam, Valverde will be joined by Iván García Cortina, Ana Dillana and Hayley Simmonds, draped in a slightly revamped, slightly tie-dye update of the Movistar jersey and some brown shorts and socks they’ve nicked from the A(g2)rchives.

While road purists holding out for a Lazarus-esque (it is Easter after all) return of Valverde to the road peloton will see this move as a bit of a piti, in hindsight it is The Most Expected Day, (probably) coming to a Netflix homepage near you soon!

Cycling on TV (all times CET) ?


• Women’s Paris Roubaix (3pm-6pm)

• Itzulia Basque Country (3.30pm-6pm) (But honestly, if you watch this…)


• NCL Cup – Round 1, Miami Beach (10pm-1.30am)


• Men’s Paris-Roubaix (10.30am-6pm)


• Ronde de Mouscron (3.15pm-5.45pm)

Photo: Cor Vos

And finally…

Audrey Cor-not-done and not-Ra-going anywhere just yet (sorry). Following the unravelling of the B&B women’s squad, Audrey Cordon-Ragot was left with no choice but to jump onto the similarly sinking ship of the Zaaf team, which she resigned from recently after claims they were not paying rider salaries.

An unfortunate situation for a talented rider to find themselves in, and the worry was that Cordon-Ragot wouldn’t be able to register for another team until August due to UCI regulations.

However, wiggle room has been found and our colleague Sadhbh O’Shea spotted French road champion Audrey Cordon-Ragot out on a Paris-Roubaix recon with the Human Powered Health team (the Escape Collective team were at the Roubaix velodrome when HPH arrived and we were completely oblivious…)

Now for a bit of inside baseball. As word started to spread, Human Powered Health hurriedly put together a press release that was sent out to the media around Thursday lunchtime, announcing Cordon-Ragot’s signature but embargoing the news until Friday at 6 pm. Generally speaking, press releases are only sent out last thing on a Friday when someone is trying to bury bad news, so why Human Powered Health were trying to hide the announcement they had secured a new biggest name on their roster is a confusing one.

Luckily, media outlets could avoid disgruntling the kind PR people at HPH because the UCI promptly updated the team’s registered rider list on their website to include Cordon-Ragot, a handy alternative source for the intrepid reporter.

All’s well that ends well, though, and the French rider will now line up for Paris-Roubaix on Saturday.


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Corrections corner

Look, if we’re going to dish it out in the Spin Cycle, we have to be able to take it too. So it’s confession time. In the first two editions, we first said that the women’s Tour of Flanders was taking place on a Saturday (wrong) and that Scheldeprijs was on a Tuesday (wrong again). It’s sloppy work, we’re sorry.

If you see any other big editorial chutes, feel free to shout at me (Jonny Long) on the Discord (accessible to Escape Collective members). Additionally, if only to dilute the complaints and corrections, let’s open this up as a general mailbag. If you’ve got a funny take or spotted something amusing, DM it over on Discord.

Until next time…

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