Cycling News

who’s flying high so far this season? – Rouleur

Sam Welsford celebrating his win at the Vuelta a San Juan

Mid-February is very early in the cycling season to make grand statements about the hierarchy of riders in world cycling. Riders are still getting up to speed with racing after the winter offseason, some still burning any lingering after-effects from Christmas-time indulgences, and nobody intends to reach peak form until the bigger races coming up from spring onwards. 

At the same time, there still has been a considerable amount of racing already this year. We’re already three events into the women’s WorldTour and two in the men’s, while there’s been plenty of other stage races from South America and Australia and Europe and the Middle East.

With this in mind, one early-season statistic does stand-out as unusual and worthy of attention: as of February 15, only one sprinter in the men’s peloton has one more than one bunch sprint so far in 2023. And yet more surprisingly, that sprinter is not a name who would have been expected to be prolific, but second-year pro Sam Welsford (DSM), who’s acclimatising to the road having previously focussed his attention on the track.

Early spoils

Welsford’s two wins came at the Vuelta a San Juan, a race that epitomised how open bunch finishes have been so far this year. Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Fabio Jakobsen (Soudal – Quick-Step) both went into the race as the marquee sprinters, and initially lived up to the billing by taking a win each on the first two days of the race. But on stage four Movistar did a number on them both by ejecting them from the peloton on the climbs to set their man Fernando Gaviria up for the win, before Welsford took them by surprise to pip Bennett into second on stage six and Jakobsen (dramatically hindered by a spectator’s overhanging arm, that nearly took him out) the following day.

Image by James Startt

Read more: Vuelta a San Juan gallery

While there was little to choose between these stars in Argentina, other top sprinters failed to capitalise on comparatively weaker fields in other races. Dylan Groenewegen (Jayco-Alula) looked all set to fill his boots at the Saudi Tour after winning the opening stage, only to be defeated by Jonathan Milan (Bahrain-Victorious) the following day, dropped on a hillier stage three, and mistime his sprint on stage five to be passed by Simone Consonni (Cofidis).

Elsewhere, at the Tour Down Under was not the happy hunting ground it usually is for Australian favourite Caleb Ewan. Despite showing promising form prior to the race…

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