Second in Algarve, the general classification in Nice, a dream start to 2020. The current global crisis cut short what could have been a career defining season for Max Schachmann. With his power on punchy terrain and fantastic early season form, he would have been a favourite in the Ardennes and on any short uphill rise. However, his riding skillset is fairly unique among the pro peloton, his time trial ability gives him a serious edge in short stage-races, and he has the finishing speed to blow past the pure climbers for the win. But will the lure of the grand tours distract him from his one-day ambitions as it has done for many before him?
Schachmann was relatively late in his arrival at the pinnacle of the sport, compared to the wave of young talent coming through. The German’s first big win came in the Giro d’Italia 2018, at the age of 24, when he punched clear of Ruben Plaza and Mattia Cattaneo after a long breakaway. Some strong results at the Deutschland Tour and the Binck Bank Tour in 2018 saw his time at Quick-Step come to an end, and he headed over to Bora – Hansgrohe.
In 2019, Schachmann began to take off. A stage win in Catalunya, three wins in the Basque Country, three consecutive top 5 finishes in the Ardennes, including a podium at Liege, not a bad first impression to give your new team. He was winning in time trials, up short punchy finishes and winning reduced bunch sprints consistently. The German National Championships followed, but 2020 would be where he made his first real GC challenge.
As I began with, Schachmann suspends his 2020 campaign finishing runner up to Remco Evenepoel in a very competitive Volta a Algarve, and the biggest win of his career at Paris Nice. It’s hard not to wonder what could have been. Could this have been the year of his first major classics victory? Perhaps. However, we might be able make some predictions about what the future holds by looking at the history of a very similar rider, Michal Kwiatkowski.
Kwiatkowski shares a similar finishing sprint to Schachmann, a similar strength up short, steep finales and most importantly, a very strong time trial. But despite only being three years older, the Pole is substantially more experienced. But what’s interesting is that he had a very similar start to 2015 as Schachmann had in 2020. Second in Algarve, but only second at Paris-Nice. Not only this, Kwiatkowski’s 2014 was very similar to Schachmann’s 2019, with strong results in the Basque County and three top five finishes in the Ardennes (including a podium at Liege). Now, Kwiatkowski did win Stade Bianche and the World Championships that year, so the comparisons do stop there, but the similarities are quite remarkable.
Kwiatkowski in 2015 went on to win Amstel Gold Race, ride well at the Basque Country, but had no other major results for the rest of the season. Potentially, Schachmann’s results could have been similar. I think most people had Schachmann as a favourite going into the Ardennes, perhaps if he ended 2020 with the same results as Kwiatkowski’s from 2015, he might have even been a little disappointed. But a strong early season does not always translate to success later on.
This does pose a question of what Schachmann intends to do with his versatility as a rider, as it did for his Polish counterpart. The fatal switch to Grand Tour GC racing has caused many to lose their way. Kwiatkowski has struggled for his identity as a rider in recent, stuck on the front of the Sky/Ineos train and losing some of his one-day mojo, especially in the Ardennes. He said in an interview in March that winning the Tour was still his ‘Moon-shot plan’, but if a rider of his calibre finishes outside the top ten at Liege again, more questions of his priorities will be raised. Kwiato, in my view, still has the potential to be one of the greatest one-day riders of his generation, one can only speculate how many more races he could have won had things played out differently.
That isn’t to say the transition to Grand Tour specialist can’t be done, Alaphilippe’s attempt at last year’s Tour can easily be classed as successful. However, it must be said that Alaphilippe was arguably the best rider in the world at that point in time with a legendary descending ability and experience winning in high mountains (Tour de France, 2018). Alaphilippe also weighs almost ten kilos less that Schachmann (according to PCS).
This seemingly makes Schachmann’s general classification challenge an open and shut case. Schachmann is taller and heavier than even Kwiatkowski, and neither have had much success in the mountains that the grand tours like to design their courses around. Unless Schachmann could lose a significant amount of weight, then I don’t think he has a future going for GC at the Grand Tours. On this topic, he said earlier this year that he ‘hoped that he could expand his spectrum of abilities in the years to come’, suggesting that he still plans to focus on his current skillset for the time being, which I believe is the correct move for now. He is clearly a major player in the one week stage races now, but focusing on his strengths should bring him more success on the coming years.
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