After the months of cold winter and waiting for the return of cycling to the road, the opening weekend is here. The Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne have reminded me how amazing cycling is. Yes, there has been a number of races this year, but nothing compares to the cobbled classics in Europe.
The Santos Tour Down Under is a great race, but the January weather in the Northern Hemisphere is off putting to the warm temperatures in Australia. The same situation applies to the Middle East; where the long stretches for wide desert roads and blistering heat do nothing but leave the spectators waiting for the final kilometer to see the sprint victor. Even with races in Spain and France happening in February, the quality of race tactics and the lack of cobbled patches automatically sets these races as preseason warm ups.
The real treat came today when riders took to the start line of the first semi-classic. Cobbles, cold temperatures, and wind set up a strong breakaway to keep the race interesting from start to finish. As the kilometers dwindled down, strong attacks came that set up an elite group hovering about a minute off the front. The World Champ and the Eternal Runner-up would eventually duel it out for top honors at the year’s classics start, but today wasn’t all about the winner, it was about the tactics.
Regardless of the outcome, the race proved to be an exciting watch; there really is nothing like this type of race. When you know there is no tomorrow, you leave it all on the road. Riders will take more risks and teammates will work harder than normal because there is no worrying about time differences. All that matters is who stands on the top step of the podium.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, one day spring races are the highlight of the sport. The real strongmen come out this time of year and put on a spectacle that ceases to amaze even the casual onlooker. That’s not to diminish the grand tours, but that style of racing is inherently different than what is required of a classics rider. Team Sky, for example, has dominated the Tour de France this decade, yet has no Monument to their name. The art of the one day race is a skill that a team and rider must cultivate and execute with grace and careful technique.
Today’s race shows how the race will not always go as planned, and only the best of riders can capitalize on a situation like the one presented today. This early season is shaping up to be one of the best in recent years. Of course, these semi-classics are all leading up the the crown jewel monuments Ronde Van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix. With the retiring Fabian Cancellara, the king Tom Boonen, the strong Norwegian Alexander Kristoff, the World Champion Peter Sagan, and near man Greg Van Avermaet all battling it out on the cobbles, this season is sure to not disappoint. Look out for exciting races, come rain or shine (please have a wet Roubaix!).