Sunday’s Liege Bastogne Liege marked the end of the cycling season’s Spring Classics campaign. Since Milan San Remo we have been treated to some classic one-day races, where the worlds toughest bike riders have done battle on the hardest courses that northern Europe has to offer. Before getting stuck into the summer’s three week Grand Tours it makes sense to look back at some of the most important moments of the Spring, to see what went right for some, and not so well for others.
Mother Nature firmly put her stamp on the Spring Classics season, with biting cold, snow and cancelled races. Right up until the Hell of the North- Paris Roubaix – riders were seen riding in clothing used in the deepest winter months, which many dreamt would soon be hidden in their wardrobes for another year. Castelli’s Gabba jersey becoming the new uniform in the peloton as every rider pretty much took to wearing one of these thermal, black jersey, making it hard for us to spot our favourites in the black mass.
Milan San Remo set the benchmark, with a significant section in the middle of the course being cut out due to heavy snow and impassable roads. When restarted the now shortened race still offered the interesting finale it always has done, with a select group breaking away on the Poggio. In the end super-favourite Peter Sagan rode too much, thinking he had the legs to take on the world, which opened the door for underdog Gerald Ciolek, who sprinted to victory. Sagan took a disappointed second place whilst Swiss rider Cancellara filled the final spot on the podium.
This Sagan-Cancellara grudge match would be another theme to run through the Spring Classics. Some races Sagan took the honours, in particularly at Gent Wevelgem, others Cancellara proved that he was the stronger, and sometimes wiser out of the two. The Swiss powerhouse went on to do the mythic double, Flanders and Roubaix back to back. Clearly showing that he was back to his best after the troubles of last season.
Classic superstar Tom Boonen, who was defending champion at Roubaix and Flanders this year, continued his run of bad luck. Crashes and elbow infections, that had affected his winter preparations, were slowly being made a memory as his form started to improve. His run of bad luck continued with crashes at Gent Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders bringing his spring campaign to an end. A cracked rib at the Tour of Flanders will hopefully mean that Boonen will be back on top form at the Tour De France.
Standout rides at the Classics came in the Ardennes, when the big strong men of the flat made way for the slimmer riders, those who enjoyed the climbs. Kreuziger, Moreno and Martin won Amstel, Fleche Wallonne and Liege Bastogne Liege respectively. Each one of them was an outside favourite, but they showed great panache on the day to take home the victory.
The 2013 Spring Classics will want to be forgotten by two groups of people: firstly the Belgians. This spring was the first time in memory where not one of the classics saw a Belgian rider on the top step of the podium, Boonen’s accident and poor form one cause. Whilst the other Belgian favourite, Philippe Gilbert showed an improvement in form as the Ardennes classics went on, his lack of top form showed his poor tactics for what they were, as a schoolboy-early charge at Fleche Wallonne, yet again, costing him his only chance of a victory this spring.
The second group who will want to soon forget this spring is Team Sky. The British super team has been continuing to show its supremacy at stage races, but has been working hard to win or at least be competitive at the one-day classics. Their only good showing they had was Ian Stannard at Milan San Remo. As the classic season progressed Team Sky showed that they had the riders, but continually riding too early saw them leave with nothing. As with the team’s first attempt to be strong at stage races, back in their first year in the sport, this can be seen as a learning curve, which they will bounce back from. Though some have argued that their loss of experienced hands such as Yates and Jullich are now being felt.
The spring now finished, the warm weather finally here, well hopefully, it is now time to look forward. Ahead are some of the best races of the calendar, Romandie, Dunkirk and the mighty Giro d’Italia.