A tale of two rivalries
Last year, the cycling world waved goodbye to one of its greatest ever rivalries.
For years, Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara fought out epic battles across the length of Europe in a bid for cycling immortality.
The two riders won 13 monuments between them in ten years, with each evidently involved in an historic game of one-upmanship.
This point was illustrated perfectly when considering a race both men have helped to earn legendary status: Paris Roubaix.
In the 2010 edition of the race dubbed ‘the hell of the North’, Cancellara attacked and won solo from 44 kilometres.
Two years later, in a seemingly ‘anything you can do’ response, Boonen sensationally won solo from an even more impressive 53 kilometres.
Now, fans and journalists alike are getting excited about a new duel - World champion Peter Sagan versus Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet.
Sagan and Van Avermaet have spent the last 12 months in a monumental tug-of-war, sharing the spoils in the majority of cycling’s most important races.
During the last five years, the Slovakian Sagan has been nothing short of a modern day cycling phenomenon.
Among his impressive list of palmares, he has won back to back world championship titles and returns to Flanders as the defending champion of De Ronde van Vlaanderen.
However, where Sagan used to be the undisputed King of the peloton, Van Avermaet’s incredible form has seen the Belgian pick up the gauntlet thrown down by Sagan.
He was catapulted into the limelight after winning Olympic gold in Rio last summer and since then he has had the edge on Sagan - with six of his last ten victories coming in head-to-head sprints with the Slovakian.
The two are quite rightly the favourites for this weekend’s De Ronde and much of the pre-race talk has surrounded which of the two superstars will come out on top.
Belgian cycling journalist Carl Berteele shared how Van Avermaet’s form has affected his confidence: “I will say what Van Avermaet told me, “I feel now I am on the same level as Peter Sagan.” That’s the first time he’s said that.”
British journalist Freddie Shires has also been impressed with the huge improvement in Van Avermaet’s results, and believes the Belgian has the ability to forge a mouth-watering rivalry with Sagan.
He said: “Van Avermaet is looking pretty spectacular at the moment. Obviously Sagan is the best rider in the world and probably the best all-round rider we’ve seen for quite a while.
“Now Van Avermaet does seem like he’s taking that step to the elite level. If he keeps this up we certainly could see a rivalry brewing for quite some time.”
However, the debate remains as to whether the Sagan/Van Avermaet rivaly can ever emulate that of Boonen and Cancellara.
As the above data taken from Google Trends shows, since 2004, Boonen and Cancellara have not only been in tight contention on the road, but also in their popularity in Google searches.
It may be a rather lateral way of measuring the quality of the rivalry, but it does provide an excellent visual representation of the struggle for supremacy between the two.
Comparing this to the data collected in Google interest for the last five years of the young pretenders, it is clear that Van Avermaet, despite being 31 years old, has only recently begun to reach Sagan’s level of interest.
Sporza television presenter, Maarten Vangramberen, was less optimistic than Freddie and Carl about the longevity of this burgeoning rivalry, and does not believe that it can ever reach the heights of Tommeke and the Gladiator.
He warned: “There will be a rivalry for another year or maybe two years but then I think it will be over.”