It was his first WorldTour race. It was a trip to the country of the cannibals. Gonzalo Serrano, a Madrilenian from the Vallehermoso neighborhood, ran the Tirreno-Adriatico until Tuesday, the year that the Italian race, and also a little the Paris-Nice, became the great showcase for the exhibition of the new champions and their arts, cyclists who began to dominate the peloton in 2020, the strange, summer-fall season of the pandemic. Around him, and on the other side of the Alps, wonders multiplied, and he wants to imitate them, he mixes up and resists the attacks of Van der Poel, Van Aert, Pogacar or Alaphilippe, and even attacks in moments of respite . “His running style is contagious, of course,” says Serrano, 26, his first year at Movistar after several at Caja Rural. “You have to walk with them, ahead. In attack cycling you have to run more ”.
Gino Mäder, a young Swiss man, has been on the run for the entire stage. He has the goal, and the victory, 50 meters away. It is the top of La Colmiane, the end of the seventh stage, the hardest in Paris-Nice. Do not win. He is overtaken by a missile called Primoz Roglic, the dominating leader to the boredom of the French race. He has already won the fourth and fifth stages. The winner of the last two Tours of Spain does not need one more victory to comfort his leadership, he could let the Swiss win perfectly, but that idea does not enter his head. For Roglic, victory is a moral obligation. Not winning when you can is betraying yourself, a sign of weakness. That was Eddy Merckx.
And Merckx, the Cannibal, the greatest in cycling history, the insatiable champion of 525 victories, also relives those days of last week in Italy, where the Tirreno-Adriatico takes place. The fool Merckx of legendary follies for no logical reason is the Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel, Raymond Poulidor’s grandson, who escapes just because – “he was cold”, he argues to try to explain why he escapes 50 kilometers from the finish line. and in his mouth he has a small bag of gel that he tries to open with his teeth and takes kilometers to achieve – in the freezing rain on the Castelfidardo circuit, the one on the walls of Marche. It is Merckx Van der Poel, who crosses the finish line winner so exhausted, in such a state of exhaustion that he does not even have the strength to raise his arms, his head sunk between his shoulders and his hands struggling to turn off the power meter on the handlebar. his bike, and more than dismounting, he falls to the ground because his legs cannot with his weight, and it is even more Merckx Tadej Pogacar, the Slovenian who won the Tour at 21 years old, the youngest winner in history, and who already has He won the Italian race, but 20 kilometers from the finish he launched himself alone in pursuit of the Dutchman, who at that time took three minutes from him, and the same moral imposition of winning that guides his compatriot Roglic in France forces him to look for Van der Poel, and for just 10s it is not enough. And it is more Merckx than anyone perhaps Wout van Aerts, the gigantic Belgian who wins a stage at sprint and another time trial and mountain days rival the climbers and climb in Italy faster than the best Spaniards, than Mikel Landa, and than the beetles, than Egan Bernal, Tour winner like Pogacar, than Nairo Quintana. And like Van der Poel, who is 26 years old like him, he has been a cyclocross world champion, and has been slow to hit the road.
And everyone, like Merckx, likes all kinds of races, classics, stages, mountains, pavés, walls …
Although none will be like Merckx, who won the first of its seven Milan-San Remo before turning 21, they are the new cannibals.
They push old champions out of their way, and away from victories. To Vincenzo Nibali, over 36 years old, who says that one day he got up and was surprised to see that there were a few who ran more than him; Alejandro Valverde, 40, who no longer enjoys so much because he is beginning to suffer; Philippe Gilbert already believes that a victory in Milan-San Remo is impossible, a fifth monument, after Flanders, Roubaix, Liège and Lombardy, that will allow him to complete the collection. And they make those who until recently seemed so young and insurmountable feel old, Peter Sagan, who has just turned 31 years old.
They create school. Kids want to be professionals at 20 years old. They are in a hurry. They all want to be Van der Poel. Also Serrano. “At his side, knowing that they have a level that I am not going to reach, I did not feel frustrated, I did not think that what bad luck, to reach the best cycling at the moment in which they want to win everything, but motivated because with them they Now he’s talking more about cycling, ”says the Movistar runner, whose career exemplifies the Spanish model, a cycling that in the days of young prodigies continues to rely more on the slow maturation of its runners. “When I became a professional, at 21 years old, it was not so fashionable for young people. I know that now many complain if they do not reach the WorldTour at 20 because they fear that if they do not, other younger people will take their position, but that is not usual. It is better to get to the best cycling when you are already trained. To pass you have to have rhythm, level and wisdom. I wasn’t ready then, but now, yes. I look a little older [un año más que Van der Poel y Van Aert], but we each have our process. In the end, it’s about being patient and not getting nervous too young. Everything comes”.
Arrives, for example, this Saturday, March 20, the Milan-San Remo, the classicissima of 299 kilometers, Los Cabos, La Cipressa and El Poggio, which opens the season of monuments and in which a new chapter in the adventures of the great trio formed by the world champion, Julian Alaphilippe, the most traditional and veteran of the kings of the moment (28 years old, professional for seven, winner of the San Remo in 19, third in 17, second in 20), Van Aert (number one as winner in 20) and Van der Poel, the least fast of the three, the least calculating.
It will be for everyone, and the fans want it, the reissue of Flanders 20, the last monument contested. After losing the last San Remo (played in August due to the pandemic) against Van Aert, Alaphilippe defeated the Belgian in the World Cup and a month later he formed with him and Van der Poel the outstanding and escaped trio that should be played in the Tour de Flanders on the last wall. The Frenchman, however, was knocked out after colliding with a motorcycle and the victory was played between Van der Poel, who won, as had his father, Adri, in 1986, and Van Aert, second again.
If Alaphilippe and Van Aert are expected to wait for Poggio, the five-kilometer climb five kilometers from the finish line on Via Roma, Van der Poel is reminded that his grandfather, Poulidor, won the San Remo 60 years ago and they demand of him crazy, that he attacks in the Cipressa, more than 20 kilometers from the finish line, and that his madness ends with success, as it ended two weeks ago in the Strade Bianche, the first classic of the year, in which he won, ahead, of course, by Alaphilippe (second) and Van Aert (fourth).
To Serrano, who together with the fast Alex Aranburu (seventh in 2020 the Basque from Astana, 25 years old) and the Asturian Iván García Cortina (25 years old too, and also fast, but with more type for the pavés) forms the trio of Spaniards fitter, nothing is required of him. He demands himself to be up to the race, he wants the 300 kilometers not to be too long, a distance he has never reached in any race, and he volunteers to help his teammate Cortina at the Poggio. “This evolves so fast that Van der Poel is sure to attack in the Cipressa”, adds Serrano. “I want to know the race and try myself to see how it evolved. And this in itself is already motivating ”.