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Grading the Graders!

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This should be fun. First, take it in the lighthearted spirit it's meant. And anyway, there's no shame in being wrong: picking the winner of a bike race isn't like picking the Super Bowl winner... probably more like picking the final score. A total crapshoot. And yet I've tapped out more than a few keys on the merits of making a guess, and been pretty up front in my assessment of the big Cycling media and its insistence on naming the top 30 favorites without picking a winner (buck buck... brawwwkk!).

I'll limit this piece to the Monuments and Pro Tour one-day events, as in Milan-San Remo, Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem, Paris-Roubaix, Amstel Gold, La Fleche, and Liege. This site is home to a lot of predictions, but I'll tack on some Cycle Sport fodder too. The current issue, arriving sometime last week, previews the Classics that by then were almost completed. It's funny, somehow it's as if after all these years the editors of Cycle Sport America still can't understand the three-week lag time between when they finish editing and when the mag hits the streets. But anyway, they have Sean Kelly offering his thoughts, which makes for a good baseline. If you know of other sites whose predictions we can add to the list, send 'em my way.

Milan-San Remo

Actual results: 1. Freire; 2. A. Davis; 3. Boonen; 4. McEwen; 5. O'Grady; 6. Zabel; 7. Balducci; 8. Petacchi; 9. Reynes; 10. Hunter.

What the Podium Cafe Poll said:

  1. Freire 35%
  2. Boonen 20%
  3. Other 17%
My Call: Freire!

Your Calls:
Freire was picked by Elvisgoat, DZI, Koppenberg
Jiggs, TCWriter: Bettini
Mr. Van P: Petacchi
Ruthann: O'Grady

What Cycle Sport's "Experts" said:

Not abundantly clear... but the previous issue was entitled "Boonen: Will 2007 be his best year yet?" Draw your own conclusions.

Final Thoughts: Not quite everyone picked Freire correctly, but the evidence was pretty solidly in his favor going in. So while it's nice to pat oneself on the back for a correct call, this one was about as controversial as picking Valverde in Murcia or McQuaid to say something stupid about ASO.

The rest on the Flip...

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Tour of Flanders

Actual results: 1. Ballan; 2. Hoste; 3. Paolini; 4. Kroon; 5. Gusev; 6. Vaitkus; 7. Buyens; 8. Muravyev; 9. Boogerd; 10. O'Grady.

What the Podium Cafe Poll said:

  1. Boonen 41%
  2. Van Petegem 16%
  3. O'Grady 12%
  4. Ballan 9%
My Call: Cancellara

Your Calls:
Jens: Pozzato
Drew: Cance
Kevin, Clydesdale, many others: Boonen
Paolo: Bettini
Jiggs: tried to say Ballan, just couldn't pull the trigger!

What Cycle Sport's "Experts" said:
Kelly noted the potential of Ballan, whom he said was getting better and better. He also thought Boonen would suffer from an overloaded team. You do the math.

Final Thoughts:If you called Ballan, you're a frickin genius. There were some signs, but mostly on far smaller stages than the daddy of them all. Betting against Boonen seemed like heresy to most, especially after another easy E3 Prijs win.

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Gent-Wevelgem

Actual results: 1. Burghardt; 2. Hammond; 3. Freire; 4. Ventoso; 5. Mengin; 6. McEwen; 7. Van Heeswijk; 8. Cooke; 9. Rojas; 10. Usov.

What the Podium Cafe Poll said:

  1. Other 33%
  2. Bennati 26%
  3. Freire 13%
My Call:Bennati

Your Calls:
Brian: maybe O'Grady
DZI: maybe Steegmans

Final Thoughts: Burghardt was a very pleasant surprise to pretty much everyone. But G-W is fairly difficult to call, since you can't often tell who's coming out to win that day. Probably the biggest crapshoot on the board.

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Paris-Roubaix

Actual results: 1. O'Grady; 2. Flecha; 3. Wesemann; 4. Leukemans; 5. Petito; 6. Boonen; 7. Hammond; 8. Franzoi; 9. Van Impe; 10. Baldato.

What the Podium Cafe Poll said:

  1. Cancellara 30%
  2. Boonen 12%
  3. Hoste 12%
My Call: Gusev

Your Calls:
Kopp: Gusev, Flecha, Cance
DZI: Ballan
Mr Van P: Boonen?
Kevin: Cance, Flecha, Hammond
Brian: Cance, Ballan, Gusev

What Cycle Sport's "Experts" said:

Final Thoughts: Second-biggest crapshoot... and an even harder one to have picked correctly this year, since the winner was slated to work for the defending champion, an order that almost never gets reversed. Many of us had noted earlier (e.g. at Gent) that O'Grady was on form, but his getting the go signal from Bjarne at P-R is an even bigger upset than the weather report that day.

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Amstel Gold Race

Actual results: 1. Schumacher; 2. Rebellin; 3. DiLuca; 4. Kessler; 5. Boogerd; 6. Valverde; 7. Bettini; 8. Freire; 9. Ricco; 10. Schleck.

What the Podium Cafe Poll said:

  1. Valverde 25%
  2. Other 14%
  3. Sanchez 12%
My Call: DiLuca

Your Calls:
Elvisgoat: Valverde
This was the week we experimented with the off-site Wiki, which didn't catch on.

What Cycle Sport's "Experts" said:
Kelly on Schumacher: "Another one who is coming on very strongly and if he continues on that road we could see a big result from him this year. He definitely looks to have what it takes." Apparently, so does Prognosticator Kelly.

Final Thoughts: Third-most difficult race to pick, since the climbers will have just arrived and don't always show their cards in round one. In retrospect, a guy like Schumacher is a good pick, but with all those glamor names around... well, it's not an easy call to make. Many of us focused on the Italians and Valverde, making us generally right on the week as a whole.

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La Fleche Wallonne

Actual results: 1. Rebellin; 2. Valverde; 3. DiLuca; 4. Kessler; 5. Ricco; 6. Nocentini; 7. Schleck; 8. Gadret; 9. Gesink; 10. Valjavec.

What the Podium Cafe Poll said:

  1. Rebellin 27%
  2. DiLuca 22%
  3. Bettini 13%
My Call: Rebellin!

Your Calls:
DZI, Koppenberg: Rebellin
Kevin: Kessler
Jens, Drew: DiLuca
Brian: Bettini

What Cycle Sport's "Experts" said:
Kelly missed Rebellin entirely, as if he wasn't a factor anymore. Given his other good calls, it's hard to criticize, especially since he collects his final information for his picks in early March.

Final Thoughts: Probably the easiest call of them all, since Rebellin and his team submitted their resumes three days earlier, with all the info a prognosticator might need. Namely, he busted the field on the Cauberg for second after Schumacher's improbable flier. And La Fleche doesn't often break up earlier.

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Liege-Bastogne-Liege

Actual results: 1. DiLuca; 2. Valverde; 3. Schleck; 4. Bettini; 5. Rebellin; 6. Boogerd; 7. Cunego; 8. Kessler; 9. Cobo; 10. Kirchen.

What the Podium Cafe Poll said:

  1. DiLuca 17%
  2. Valverde 14%
  3. Cunego/Rebellin 12%
My Call: Rebellin

Your Calls:
Drew, Hons: DiLuca!
R Mc: Ricco, Voigt
Koppenberg: Bettini
Jens, John: Valverde
TC: Rebellin
Paolo: Valverde, DiLuca, Rebellin
Jiggs: Vino

What Cycle Sport's "Experts" said:
Kelly didn't think much of DiLuca, preferring to think of DiLuca's fluke year being 2005, not 2006. He expected Frank Schleck to add a palmare someplace.

Final Thoughts: Aside from a few people taking fliers, everyone was focused on the guys who made it into the top five. Liege is the hardest to win, but as a consequence it's not too hard to look at the earlier returns and figure out who's going to be there in the end.