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What we learned from the opening weekend of the Spring Classics

Joe Robinson
4 Mar 2019

QuickStep and Boels-Dolmans to win all the Classics, why a crosswind is the best weather for racing and a goodbye to desert racing

According to some, last weekend was better than those days between Christmas and New Year's Eve when all you do is eat chocolate and leftover cold cuts.

That's because it was the opening weekend of the Cobbled Classics campaign, what the purists would consider the true start of the season.

For the men, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and for the women, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Omloop van het Hageland, each providing their own spectacle, teaching us some interesting lessons for the next few weeks ahead.

Unfortunately, it'll be all over far too soon as Paris-Roubaix, the Queen of the Classics, is under five weeks away.

Deceuninck-QuickStep are here to party

Turns out that Deceuninck-QuickStep are pretty good at racing the Classics. Who would have thought?

Zdenek Stybar, who on a side note wears lovely aftershave, proved his big wages worthy with an impressive solo performance at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad before Bob Jungels produced a ride akin to the halcyon days of Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, holding a peloton at bay for 16km alone, averaging 50kmh into a headwind.

Over both races, the Belgian team had five of its riders provide six top-10 results in what was utter domination of the opening weekend.

They will likely continue at Le Samyn on Tuesday, too. Despite sending a second-string team to the small semi-Classic, don’t be surprised if they back up their 1-2 dominance from 12 months previous.

My tip is Florian Senechal, by the way. He was vital in causing the peloton split at Kuurne and will likely be given his own opportunities at Le Samyn.

Imagine if they win all the Classics, every single one of them, it’s honestly not that crazy a thought.

So are Boels-Dolmans

Turns out that Boels-Dolmans are pretty good at racing bikes. Even when star performer, World Champion Anna van der Breggen, misses out on the opportunity of a win, women’s cycling superteam bring another one off of the conveyer belt to pick up the win.

This weekend it was Chantal Blaak, who’s perfectly-timed attack on the Kappelmuur was the difference on the day. Behind, Dutch youngster Jip van den Bos scooped up third in the bunch gallop for second place.

The team sat out the Omloop van het Hageland on Sunday but return next weekend to race Strade Bianche, with Van der Breggen the defending champion. It’s a race that the team have traditionally dominated, too, with a 75% win rate on the Tuscan white roads.

It’s hard to look beyond them for victory, as is so often the case for so many of women’s one-day races.

Crosswinds are really good

Keep your rain, snow, sunshine, thunder and lightning at home. All I want to see is a peloton being hit by a strong cross/tailwind on a lengthy piece of exposed road.

It gives me goosebumps every time.

The way the peloton divides into waves across the road. The odd rider looking lost between groups. The pained face of Yves Lampaert drilling it to make the split stick.

Crosswinds caused the major split at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne yesterday and gave Jungels the gap to spoil the party for the sprinters. Nothing beats the spectacle of watching crosswinds blow a race apart.

I’d even go as far as saying that I’d rather crosswinds at Paris-Roubaix over rain. Controversial, I know, but imagine a peloton shot to bits before the race has even reached the Arenberg.

More, please.

Flanders and the Ardennes are not so different

So Bob Jungels won Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne - the sprinters' Cbbled Classic - at the weekend. He has also won Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

The day before, Tim Wellens and Dylan Teuns finished third and fifth respectively at Omloop Het Neiuwsblad. They, like Jungels, have capabilities more suited to the Ardennes.

Peter Sagan skipped opening weekend so that he could be fresh from Milan-San Remo through to Liege, where he believes the change in route could suit his abilities. Greg Van Avermaet is also keeping an eye on Liege, too.

Also, rumour has it that Alejandro Valverde will be racing Flanders, too. It looks like the cobbled climbs of Flanders and smooth tarmac ascents of the Ardennes are not so different any more.

For a fun piece of trivia, the last man to win both Liege and either the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix in the same year was Sean Kelly, who in 1984 added Liege to victory in Roubaix earlier that spring.

As for the women, Anna van der Breggen did the Flanders/Liege double last year.

Racing in a desert is boring

Like, really, really boring.

It’s just an elongated training ride through a massive sandpit. Even the inclusion of the new Jebel Jais mountain on Stage 5 of the UAE Tour did little to spice things up.

It finished with a bunch sprint; 20 riders finished within 30 seconds of stage winner Primoz Roglic after a 20km ascent. Obviously, there are other factors attributed to why this was the case but it was honestly not very exciting.

Thankfully it is over for another year and we can concentrate on the proper racing from now on.