Notes From the Belgium Desk

Fotoreporter Sirotti

Latest news from the cycling heartland, starting with La Doyenne's new route

This and that from the Patershol in my mind...

  • ASO announced the new route for Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2014, with a new/old finale, as well as a cool little cash prize. According to Sporza, the route out is identical to 2013, but the first rider to arrive in Bastogne gets a nice chunk of change, 5000 Euros. On the way back, the route has been adjusted a bit. The Col du Rosier has been replaced by the comparable Cote de la Vecquee at about the 200km mark. More importantly, the run-in to Ans has shifted back toward the familiar, with La Redoute being followed by Cote de Sprimont, Cote des Forges, Cote de la Roche aux Faucons, and Cote de Saint-Nicholas. The biggest change is the Cote des Forges, inserted at the 230km mark, where last year there was no rated climb. The Falcon's rest replaces the Cote de Colonster from 2013, in height and position, and the rest of the run-in to Ans is the same. More later. Much more...
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  • Flipping the script from yesterday's major bummer, BMC's Philippe Gilbert came out and called this a "perfect winter" reminiscent of his lead-in to the historic 2011 season. The former World Champion, who re-upped with BMC through 2016, wants to show the world that he's still that guy, and wants to repay his team's investment, and one of the missing elements of his past two often-forgettable campaigns has been the winter prep. Last winter he carried the title of world champion around Belgium, about as far from a quiet existence as possible. The year before, dental problems wrecked his form ahead of the classics. His spring program does not appear to be a matter of public record just yet, as BMC sent around his plans only thru Tirreno-Adriatico yesterday. But presumably it's the same mix of Flemish events leading into the Ardennes. And Gilbert went out of his way to mention that he will be at Paris-Roubaix in 2015, as part of his "I'm getting old and running out of races to win" campaign.
  • Speaking of stars at the Cobbled Classics, Vincenzo Nibali announced that he's attending the Tour of Flanders this year, as a way of sampling life on the infernal stones in advance of this year's cobble-inflected Tour de France. This harkens back to 2010 when Lance Armstrong and others found themselves in Flanders in the springtime, readying themselves for a Wallers stage in July. Armstrong, somewhat of a classics hopeful back in his day, had ridden Flanders before and finished 27th, with the chasing peloton. Then nothing bad ever happened to him again, no sirree. Anyway, Nibali has an intriguing skillset for the increasingly climber-friendly Flanders, but I wouldn't look for him to be in that sort of form or mentality. This sounds more like a recon.
  • Nudging stars of the summer into the Cobbled Classics is a favorite game for wags like me, and so it can't go without mentioning that one persistent rumor has Bradley Wiggins taking on Paris-Roubaix. The English speaking intertubes are replete with "hints" and "rumors," but the actual decision seems to be a state secret up to now. Sky just rolled themselves out in Australia this weekend, and maybe Sir Bradley will open up on the matter. We shall see. But I put this in a category above "pointless speculation" for two reasons. One, as mentioned, is that Le Tour has a cobbles stage, and everyone who doesn't know how to ride them had better learn. Two is that Wiggins would be a potential threat to win, between his cronoman's pure power -- on a level with Fabian Cancellara's -- and his professed love of the sport's lore. It'd be a match made in Heaven and a huge bump in intrigue if it happens. Which is far more than we can say about Nibali in Flanders.
  • Aside: why are riders' race plans a secret? Do other riders take note and start making counter-preparations? Not a chance. Do teams like flexibility in their plans? Some, but certainty and stability is a valuable commodity too. Peter Sagan has said he'll attend this year, why won't Wiggins say? Paris-Roubaix is less than three months away. Yes, I'm having fun now...
  • Earlier in the week, the E3 Prijs Harelbeke announced its wildcards, inviting seven teams beyond the World Tour lineup: Belgian squads Wanty Groupe Gobert and Topsport Vlaanderen, along with foreign outfits IAM Cycling, Cofidis, Androni Gioccatoli, MTN Qhubeka, and United Healthcare. The Blue Train sports Martijn Maaskant as its cobbles guy, which may or may not help open a few other doors in Flanders this spring. Belgium is a long way to go for one race, though there would be plenty to do in the Netherlands around then too. They were hobnobbing around the Giro presentation long enough to score a major invite to Milano-Sanremo, so that's on their spring program as well.
  • Speaking of wildcards, NetApp were not among the E3 attendees, as they weren't in 2013, when they nonetheless took the start at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Presumably they're on the same course for 2014, though those announcements haven't happened yet. Meanwhile, the German outfit have started filling up their spring dance card with invites to Milano-Sanremo and Tirreno-Adriatico, positioning themselves as a nearly-full-time spring fixture. Roger Kluge (33rd in P-R) and Paul Voss (28th in Flanders) lead the team on the cobbles.
  • The first Belgian win of the year is always news. Speaking strictly of the road, of course, since the real first Belgian win is Sven Nys at the GP Sven Nys, a New Year's Day tradition. But back on the tarmac, this year's prize goes to Jerome Baugnies, of Wanty Groupe Gobert, who took a mass spurt from Luis Leon Sanchez in the Tour of Gabon. LuLu, with Caja Rural now, remains the overall leader.
  • Speaking of first wins, Dutch cycling won't be seeking a repeat to the start of Tom-Jelte Slagter's season from 2013. Formerly of Blanco, the new Garmin-Sharp recruit is home in Friesland awaiting the birth of his child rather than defending his surprise 2013 title at the Santos Tour Down Under. He'll be one watching the changes in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, as a likely support rider for last year's winner Dan Martin.
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