Classics Wrap... And One Last Patrick Verhoest Gallery!

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And with that, we're out. The big Spring Classics are behind us for 2012, and while things are happening fast elsewhere a quick goodbye is warranted. It was, in a word, a strange season. A rundown, and Patricks' pics from Liege-Bastogne-Liege... on the flip!

Overarching Themes

Change was a big one. Flanders reinvented itself. The calendar got tweaked again between E3 and Gent-Wevelgem, as well as the UCI status, which altered those races in important ways. One of these was considered a good thing. The other... the polite reaction is, give it time. The blunt one is best captured by a tirade of profanity with the word "Kappelmuur" tossed in somewhere.

Negative racing was another theme. There is no question that the Tour of Flanders was raced negatively. The best guess (and I have some reliable hints on this) is that riders were concerned about how the overhauled course -- very different, possibly much harder -- would play out. If true, there is hope for a more swashbuckling race next year. Also, the Classics were punchy and fun up to the moment when Fabian Cancellara crashed, so having him back next year might do more to guarantee a good Ronde.

In general, negative racing is often in the eyes of the beholder. Was LBL raced negatively, or did BMC burn enough legs (including their own guys) in the last hour to blunt the possibility of attacks? Not sure. Was La Fleche raced negatively? I would say yes -- like it is every year. Amstel was no great shakes either. To those who want to hear the old-timers say that racing has changed for the worse (and blame race radios in the process), the visual evidence is there. I wasn't around when De Vlaeminck and Merckx were trading blows, or at least my internet connection was really slow (1 bit per month). And I hear the counterargument about guys simply not having the legs to accelerate away.

But attacks work. Sep blew up the Omloop. Cancellara blew up every race he was in. Tom Boonen won by attacking from way the hell out in Paris-Roubaix. Voeckler too in Brabantse Pijl. Various Italian stars (what?) enlivened the spring with decision-forcing attacks in LBL and Flanders... and none of them won, but podiums are better than what you can expect from a bunch sprint. The politics of chase groups make the Belgian Parliament look like a well-tuned chorus. Anyone who has the legs for an assault is well advised to use them. But when riders choose not to, it's hard for us to know whether that was motivated by physical or psychological issues.

A few of my favorite things...

Just so you know that negativity doesn't fester in me.

  1. New Winners. Gasparotto and Iglinsky were surprising and worthy victors, the latter for his clear attack and the former, well, he sprinted from the bunch twice, but generally a solid rider on great form. But in my mind the most satisfying wins were Purito in La Fleche and Gerrans in San Remo.
  2. E3 is Back! No question the calendar adjustment made this a better race. Even though it ended in a bunch, the action was fantastic.
  3. Kids on the Rise. Longer list could go here, but Sep and Sagan both look like future cobbled monument winners... whenever those geezers Boonen and Cancellara decide to make room for someone else.
OK, on to the images from Liege! Mouse over the photos if you don't recognize the faces.

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Check out Samu's earring and the subtle gold piping around his neckline. Milking that one day for all it's worth!

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Saronni surveys his charges...

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Ah, the Kid. Still a fan favorite.

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JaJa in da house!

Patrick paid a quick visit to La Redoute before the race...

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Iglinsky FTW!

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Dagnammit...

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Gaspa for the final podium spot...

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Fist pump! (and mullet)

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Podium...

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The bikes get their own podium...

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All photos by Patrick Verhoest for the Podium Cafe. Thanks for a great spring Patrick!

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