The last week of February is one of the most important in the cycling calendar. Why? Because it marks the start of the cobbled classics. Some of the world’s best one-day racers will line up on Saturday - wrapped no doubt in all the layers they can get hold of as Europe enters another cold snap - to begin their classics campaigns. Read on for what to look out for at the hardest and coolest races of the year.
What’s all the fuss?
Classics season is way more exciting than stage racing. The Grand Tours might carry the greatest weight of prosperity, but they don’t offer anything close to the all-out racing style of the cobbled classics. There’s not much that the bigger teams can do to maintain control and sitting back for the finale is impossible. If a rider has ambitions for one-day success, the hard work begins at kilometre zero and stretches out until the bitter end. Classics demand an all or nothing approach and that is exactly what makes them so exciting to watch.
Cobbled racing is hazardous and uncomfortable, but it makes for a great spectacle and we’re treated to a perfect opener this Saturday.
Peter Sagan will be one to watch this spring, as always, but it looks like we’re going to have to wait a few weeks for his aggressive riding style. But even without the world champion in attendance, there are dozens of contenders to keep an eye on.
Trek-Segafredo is chock full of talented one-day racers including Jasper Stuyven who found victory at Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne in 2016 and finished 4th at Paris-Roubaix last year. The young Belgian even managed to beat Philippe Gilbert on the last stage of the Binckbank Tour 2017 which finished halfway up the Muur van Gerardsbergen. Omloop Het Nieuwsblad visits the same roads this Saturday so Stuyven should feel right at home.
Quick-Step Floors is a Belgian registered team with a reputation for dominating the spring races. The teams they’re sending to this weekend’s races are incredibly strong with not a single rider incapable of taking glory. Belgian champion, Philippe Gilbert, returns to Omloop Het Nieuwsblad where he hopes to take his third victory at the race. He is joined by former Paris-Roubaix winner Niki Terpstra, reigning Dwars Door Vlaanderen champion, Yves Lampaert, and renowned fast man, Fernando Gaviria, who is fresh off the plane from a successful season opener in South America.
Coming up in the next two weeks
The next few weeks are chock-a-block with races - none of which are likely to resemble tedious sprint stages, whoopee! - and it all starts with two quite different events this weekend. While Omloop Het Nieuwsblad features what seems like dozens of energy-sapping short climbs, Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne is far less selective, often coming down to a bunch sprint. Then there’s Le Samyn, a race which sees continental teams battle the big names, before one of the most thrilling races of the season on March 3rd. Strade Bianche takes the classics riders to Italy and the white (grey) gravel roads of Tuscany. It seems to rain nearly every year, but it is, without exception, super exciting.
24th February - Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Elite
25th February - Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne
27th February - Le Samyn
3rd March - Strade Bianche
4th March - Dwars door West-Vlaanderen (Johan Museeuw Classic)
Now that you’ve seen who is riding and when, check out some of the purpose-built race bikes they’ll be riding. The Trek Domane and Specialized Roubaix are designed to balance performance and speed with comfort, which is particularly hard given the characteristically rough terrain of the cobbled classics. But while they may have been built for the cobbles, these bikes are also perfect for endurance riding wherever you are.