Classic Spring Fever
While most of us are dealing with the cold winter months, many of Europe 's pro peleton are racking up training and racing miles in the warm sun of the Southern Hemisphere. However the fun in the sun comes to an abrupt end in February when the bunch returns to Belgium for the first of the ‘hard-men' races, the Het Volk. Rain, wind, icy cold and generally very miserable conditions are the order of the day and herald the onset of spring fever for race fans.
Spring officially finishes on April 23rd for the elite pro racing peloton with the Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the oldest of the classics and one of the five monuments . The following week sees the last of the early season stage races with the Tour of Romandie (25th -30th April). On May 8th the Giro d'Italia, and the first Grand Tour of the year, opens up the summer months.
But here in March we are getting ahead of ourselves as spring fever heats up with numerous classics and semi-classics. The Het Volk kicked off the action in February and through March races like Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Dwars door Vlaanderen and the E3-Prijs Harelbeke rivet our attention to the cold and cobbled roads of Belgium . The action builds to a magnificent crescendo in April with three of the five monuments : Tour of Flanders (April 2nd ); Paris-Roubaix (April 9th ); Liege-Bastogne-Liege (April 23rd ). As if that is not enough for even the most avid of race fans there are also three more classics in April: the 5 th Ghent-Wevelgem; the 16th Amstel Gold and on the 19th Fleche Wallone.
‘La Primavera', the Milan-San Remo on March 18th was the first major one-day classic of the year. As one of the five monuments , and because it is in Italy , this race is much coveted by the Italian riders. After coursing beside spectacular coastal scenery the race usually slips into high gear on the final two climbs coming into San Remo . This year the Cipressa and Poggio climbs saw tremendous battles. On the final climb of the Poggio a small group managed to ride just ahead of the bunch. On the descent and the final few kms to the finish the leaders rode like the fury. In the end Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Quick Step-Innergetic was the only one able to hold off the full fury of the bunch led in by Alessandro Pettachi who crossed the line just one bike length behind Pozzato.
This year April, the classics month, promises to be of vintage quality! Tom Boonen is without doubt the big favorite for the “Ronde” (Tour of Flanders) and the Paris-Roubaix. If he manages to repeat last years double he will be elevated from Lion of Flanders to “demi-god” by the population of Belgium . His emphatic win in the E3-Prijs clearly showed that as a huge crowd at the finished roared their approval. The grand old days of Flemish Lions like Van Steenbergen and Van Looy are back. A Belgian World Champion is again winning in dominant style in “ Flanders Fields ”. However there are many other superb riders yearning for victory in April. Peter van Petegem has won both the “Ronde” and P-R and would dearly love to taste victory again in either or both of these races.
Alex Vinokourov (Liberty-Seguros) has targeted Liege-Bastogne-Liege again and few would bet against him taking his second consecutive win. Paolo Bettini is capable of winning any of the spring classics and if he has fully recovered from his Tirreno crash will be a serious contender. George Hincapie has maintained a very low profile this year but it is well known that the Paris-Roubaix is his big dream. With the right form he can do it. But spoiling the party is a large group of extremely competent bike racers and we may well see the big favorites taking a back seat.
We do not have long to wait to see what unfolds. Spring fever is upon us.