The cycling season ‘officially’ started this weekend with Ian Stannard taking the top spot on the podium of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Watching the closing kilometres of the Omloop, once again reminded us of what an amazing time of the year it is in the cycling calendar.
Those that don’t follow racing are often unaware of what takes place either side of the Tour de France or possibly the Giro d’Italia. They especially don’t know about the winter fix of racing in the deserts of Oman and Dubai and the slightly more interesting Tour down Under. But the moment the Spring Classics start with Omloop, it is the true start of the season.
Cycling isn’t an easy sport to follow and understand – it takes perseverance, but once you get there, it can be incredibly exciting. Watching a 3-week grand tour like the Tour de France is without doubt a highlight of the season, but it requires commitment to follow the super-human efforts of those men over the period of the race. Tactics take place over a number of days and some stages can be, to be brutal, dull.
The Classics are different.
The name ‘Classics’ is given to single day races, the best of which usually have some defining features, whether it is the cobbles of Flanders or the hills of Liege-Bastogne-Liege. They also generally tend to feature a different bread of racer than the longer stage races; less super-human GC rider, more hard-man classic specialists.
The Spring Classics are a series of races at the beginning of the calendar which mostly take place around the somewhat spiritual home of hard-man cycling; Belgium. These races are often characterised by their agricultural settings and many feature cobbled sections.
It is quite often these cobbles, which add a layer of excitement to the proceedings. Punctures and crashes are a part of the job for bike racers at the best of times, but at these races the risks are even higher. Races change in an instance and team tactics need to adapt just as quickly.
All this adds up to a spectacle, even for the non-enthusiast.
Take Ian Stannard’s win at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last Sunday; in the closing kilometres he was part of a group of four that would contest the finale. The other three riders were all from the same team – Etixx-Quick Step, and should have been able to prevent Stannard from winning with a careful use of tactics. They failed and he was able to grab the win from Niki Terpstra in the final few meters of the race, exciting stuff!
The culmination of the ‘cobbled classics’ this year will take place on Easter Sunday with the Tour of Flanders and then Paris – Roubaix the following weekend. These races are in fact two of five ‘monuments’ of the season; these are the biggest one day races any rider can win.
This year Sir Bradley Wiggins will end his Team Sky career at Paris – Roubaix with a bid to win the race he has dreamt of since his boyhood. While the past few years have seen him contest Grand Tour’s, including his Tour de France win, he has now adapted his training, body shape and riding style to match the gruelling punishment that will be inflicted on it during the Paris – Roubaix.
It is indeed the history and prestige of the spring classics that see not only the professionals testing their strength on the demanding courses. Every year cycling fans from around the world make their way to these legendary places to try it for themselves. It is common that big events like Flanders, Paris – Roubaix and Liege-Bastogne-Liege all have amateur events on the Saturday before the professional event on the Sunday.
All this adds to the notoriety of the Spring Classics, making it the best time of the year for cycling fans.