I've gotten into (OK, started) arguments from time to time about what's cooler, the Classics season or the Grand Tours, and as we sit perched between the two, I realize what a ridiculous argument it is. The only sane answer is... both.
Nothing beats the immediate action of the Classics. As opposed to the Tour where teams are riding for certain objectives and otherwise maybe saving their matches for tomorrow, in the Classics every team rides with only one goal: to win that day. The action we've witnessed over the last six weeks, or however you prefer to count it, has been non-stop riveting vollgas fun. But as the intrigue builds around the grand tours -- and both the Giro and Tour are completely loaded with intrigue this year -- I am just as compelled to appreciate them in their own right. In other words, to try to elevate one season over another is kind of a waste of time. Not that that's stopped us before...
Anyway, let's take a last look back at the spring Classics before turning the page.
- All Around Best Day: Paris-Roubaix. This race was so dramatic it hardly needs retelling. But the primary elements (apart from the crash, the train, the ejections, and the resulting rioting) were the presence of all the favorites until late stages, the subtle selections that evolved, the improbable outfoxing of the world champion, and the nailbiting conclusion. Before this year I think I'd failed to appreciate how the cobbles are just as selective as a Paterberg or a Mur... only in less predictable ways.
- Best Action: I'll go with Amstel Gold. Poor Rabobank getting attacked every five seconds. They need to renounce the race as a priority so it can go back to being a fair fight. What Amstel lacks in pomp, it made up for with some wide-open action.
- Least Action: De Ronde. In an objective sense the Tour of Flanders is perhaps my favorite race, but Boonen cast such a shadow over the race this year that a) nobody dared attack; b) when Hoste got fed up and tried, Boonen easily bridged and turned it into the winning escape; and c) neither (a) nor (b) really mattered because Boonen was pretty much unbeatable. I don't even think you could have ridden him into the barriers.
- Least Interesting Day: Milan-San Remo. Great win for Pozzato, but when only 1.5 km out of nearly 300 has anything going on...
- Best Win: Fabien Cancellara, Paris-Roubaix. Not a complete surprise to his fellow riders and some astute commentators, but Cancellara overhauled his more common perception as a time trialist in one fell swoop with a powerful display, sauntering away from Boonen and the rest. Hushovd in Gent-Wevelgem was nice to see as well.
- All Around Best Rider: Boonen. Sure, Valverde notched two wins in Pro Tour events to Boonen's one, but Valverde was only dominant in the last km of each. Boonen presided over the Ronde and Gent, not to mention a host of semi-classics and Milan-San Remo, either winning or meting out victory to teammates. Not until Paris-Roubaix did he appear even slightly vulnerable, and his win in Flanders was complete psychological and physical domination. For three weeks, he was le Patron.
Feel free to add more categories that help capture the Belgian Classics season, and to take shots at my nominees.