Bring out the tough guys, it’s time for the Spring Classics. Not the massive major events but the build up to the Northern Spring Classics. Shocking weather and rough roads.
This weekend it’s all about Belgium, with the running of two great races: The Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the following days event the Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.
People think France or Italy is the homeland of bike racing, but if you’ve ever been to Belgium and seen bike racing first hand, or even got involved in racing there, you’ll know Belgium’s the place. It’s not just crazy for cycling, it’s out and out insane for the sport.
If you’re really wanting to pin point a place for the home of cycling it’s not just Belgium, but the Region known as Flanders.
If you’re a young bike rider striving to become a pro, and hail from anywhere else in the world, Belgian’s the place you go to learn your craft. If you can win here you can win anywhere. You’re guaranteed fast, hard, aggressive racing and all very well organised. All that only grows and improves when you hit the pro ranks.
On Saturday the pros will be ready to do battle at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the major opening event of the Belgium racing calendar. The race kicks off and finishes in Gent, home to several pros including Garmin rider Tyler Farrar. This place will be a swarm of activity with old blokes checking out the latest kit, young kids screaming for their favourite rider, signature hunters galore and mechanics making last minute changes to bikes. A circus of activity.
From Gent it heads out of town, with the riders having to tackle 9 paved sections and 10 bergs.
It’s closer to the major classic the Tour of Flanders in the way the race is laid out, rather than the other famous spring classic Paris Roubaix.
All the big teams will be attending, 22 teams in total. It’s the first time a lot of the big boys aiming for the classics will be able to have a quality leg tester.
Alongside the main teams there’s a good lot of smaller pro teams with some teams and riders you may not have been aware of. Teams such as: Rusvelo, a Russian outfit fielding an entire 8 riders from the homeland, Champion System, China’s first Pro Continental Team which includes the Tour Down Under hero Will Clarke who won a stage with an epic solo move, Brittany based team Bretagne-Schuller are in attendance along with the local smaller teams Accent Jobs, Landbouwkrediet and Topsport Vlaanderen. Teams like these will be up for early moves and trying to shake things up.
Last year’s event was rain soaked and full of attacking. Eventual winner of the 2011 race, Sebastian Langeveld of Rabobank, attacked on one of the key hill sections with 50km remaining to race. Opening a massive minutes on the following group.
With 15km to go Flecha, of Team Sky, eventually got across to Langeveld. The race ended up in a two man sprint, with the Rabobank rider just pipping the 2010 champ Flecha to the win.
It’s always a great race to follow.
The following day after a rub down of the legs, a good night’s sleep, plenty of pasta and protein it’s time to line up again at the start of Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.
The loop is a total of 195km taking in the region’s cobbles and bergs again. As with all races in Belgium it’s never a soft affair and attacks will unfold but not always determine the result.
Last year there were breaks but it all came back together for the finish with Christopher Sutton winning the sprint.
Again, if you look at the team line up there’s a few teams turning up with their main sprinters. Cav, Boonen, Greipel, Renshaw and Farrar are the stand out names to watch if the peloton arrives as one.
But alongside the sprinters are the hard men, ready to get in the breaks and plan for a long day off the front of the peloton. Riders like Dowsett could be worth watching, Svein Tuft from GreenEdge and Devolder from Vacansoleil. Leif Hostel dropped down a level to join the Accent Jobs Team, so he’ll be out to impress in what could be his last season. Hungry new riders like the Brit Adam Blythe who joined BMC this year from the team formally known as Omega Pharma-Lotto will also be looking for victory. This race could really suit him.
Martyn Maaskant has been a promising rider for a few years since his pro début in 2008. Will he finally have a win in the early season to show for the class that a lot of people think he is capable of?
I’ll advise you on your weekend plans. It should run like this: Up early, out on the bike, get back, crack open a Belgian beer, relax and watch two great days of racing.
Alternatively if your living Down Under: Get up the middle of the night stick the computer on, find a site that’s streaming the races and expect to not get much work done on Monday at your place of employment.