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It only feels like yesterday that we were looking forward to the Tour Down Under, but here we are, staring down the barrel of Ardennes week and the end of the Spring Classics.
Here’s my review of the main races so far, plus a quick preview of the Ardennes classics.
Milan San Remo – Mathieu Van Der Poel
What a finale! Yet again, Milan San Remo delivers the most ridiculously intense 15 minutes of racing of the year. In the end, the three biggest riders in the field made everyone else (with the exception of Filippo Ganna) look very average indeed. When MVP kicked at the top of the Poggio, there was no bringing him back, and despite being the least favourite of the big favourites going in, he completely bossed it!
Gent Wevelgem - Marlen Reusser and Christophe Laporte
Marlen was more than a worthy winner on a disgusting day; even going off course couldn’t throw a spanner in the works! I love the current state of women’s racing, you are seeing a new batch of hitters coming through and big professional teams coming to the fore. Alas, everything is still not quite so polished as the men’s scene, which enables fantastic stand offs and situations like today’s race to happen. Loved it.
If you are a Jumbo fan, the men’s race was the stuff of dreams. Jumbo have an incredible team this year, so it’s no real surprise to see them so dominant. I’ve seen some questioning of Van Aert’s ‘gift’ to Laporte, but I personally think this was a shrewd move.
When you have such an embarrassing glut of talent on the books, you have to spread the love a bit. It’s a lot easier to win the biggest races, when you have the best riders, so you don’t want these guys leaving to chase their own ambitions. As long as their best chance of glory sits in the team, they’ll keep working for the common goal.
Tour of Flanders – Lotte Kopecky and Tadej Pogacar
Both races were dominated by raw and brutal strength. Lotte Kopecky has had a formidable start to the year on the bike, whilst going through a horrific time off it. Her Flanders victory was, to me, the clearest demonstration yet that Lotte is the realest of real deals. Already a hitter, is Lotte on the crest of taking the top step in women’s cycling?
Tadej’s dominant solo win was both awe inspiring to watch and a little depressing. Imagine what it must be like for the likes of Greg Van Avermaet to watch this Tour winner totally destroy the best classics riders in the purest of classics territory? I can imagine there might be a few big pay cuts happening in the next round of contract negotiations!
Paris Roubaix – Alison Jackson and Mathieu Van der Poel
Alison Jackson lived the Paris Roubaix dream. Get in the break, hold on, win the sprint from the remaining warriors. Her commitment to the break was notable and she was a fantastically deserving winner. The big crash in the favourites group may have affected things, but I’m not so sure; there was never any real impetus from behind, no one, or team, willing to take it on.
The men’s race was both incredible and at the same time a bit of an anti-climax. I was so wanting John Degenkolb to pull off the unimaginable, so was gutted when his campaign ended with a late crash. You have to love the canny underdog, and a Degenkolb win would have been the stuff of dreams. And then Wout punctures, promptly ending the competition right there. The big boys again
showing that they really are head and shoulders above the rest.
Van der Poel’s monuments record is something to behold; 14 starts, 14 finishes, worst finish 13th place, eight podiums including four wins. That’s the greatest monument record ever!
The Ardennes Classics
For me, probably these are three of the most processional one day races in the calendar.
Look at the results and it’s the same names that pop up time and time again, often in the same year. And that’s because these races are effectively all the same. A series of short, punchy climbs, meaning that the person coming to the week with the highest W/KG is probably going to clean up.
That does mean that we’ll see a new cast of players taking to the fore (plus Tadej obviously!) Pure watt monsters will be replaced by watts per kilo, gravity deniers!
The Dutch classic is the most unpredictable of the Ardennes, namely down to having the least challenging finish. 253km (men) and 158km (Women) of relentless climbing will grind the riders into submission before the bedlam of the final 20 minutes. The last two climbs are far from the hardest of the race, which I think is a canny way to maximise the suspense.
Basically, a 200 / 133km climbers field sprint. Finishing up the stupidly tough Mur de Huy means that the race is ridden just like a Tour flat stage. Everything is kept together for a massive ‘watt-off’ up the final 20%+ slopes.
Liege Bastogne Liege
The final classic and the final monument of the spring. For me, this is like Amstel, without the unpredictability. The hills are harder, the race more attritional, so normally the strongest prospers. Coming so soon after Fleche, we are likely to already know who that person is going to be before the
I’m crossing my fingers for some more great racing; who do you think will be taking the spoils this week?