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They're All Classics

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Every year around this time I begin to reflect a little on another season of blogging, and it's a pretty short walk from "it's been educational" to "I can't believe what I wrote last spring." What can I say, uneasy lies the head that wears three years of searchable archives. Anyway, this year's first big post-season realization came a tad early, with one race left on the calendar. I can't find it, but sometime this spring I tried to categorize riders into a handful of distinct classes: climber, sprinter, rouleur, Paris-Roubaix behemoth, and grand tour specialist. Or something like that, and from there I neatly slotted riders into the races which supposedly fit the same label.

Well, fortunately that didn't exactly become habit. For now, I've come to the conclusion that there is generally a set of races called "classics" and a general set of riders who love to ride them. And while within these groupings there is some distinct variety, it's not proper to talk in terms of only certain subsets being suited for certain races. You can take the opposite approach of eliminating some folks. For example, the big-body power guys like Boonen or Cancellara don't have any shot at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and the small, spry climber types like Cunego or Rebellin will never, ever win Paris-Roubaix. But for the most part, classics guys from Ballan to Valverde will be vaguely in contention at any classic they apply themselves to.

On the flip: a new rating system!

So here's my thinking about how to categorize the classics: a one-to-ten scale, where one is purely flat and ten is climbing madness. Now, I realize that Paris-Roubaix and Paris-Brussels are both flat, but the comparison ends there. Well, no matter: the 1 rating is not an insult to Paris-Roubaix. ALL CLASSICS ARE HARD. The rating is simply a matter of style.

Then the riders: Oscar Freire is maybe a 1-6 rider. Damiano Cunego is probably a 4-10 guy. And so on. I'm not going to run through the complete list of riders now, though you can (coughUrsulacough). But I will run through the races. Incidentally, you could probably do the reverse: rate the races as a range and the riders as a single number. But riders are dynamic and race routes are, you know, static.

The races... a partial list (to which you're invited to add):

Het Volk: Just enough climbing to get you excited about Flanders. 3

Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne: Jan Kirsipuu is a past winner. Nuf said? 1

Monte Paschi Eroica: Barely a meter of level ground, though no single climb will break anyone's back. 4

Milano-Sanremo: A completely amusing event, kilometer after kilometer of dullness until suddenly the race hits the coast and the season's first monument explodes into a mad scramble over some intriguing terrain. Flip it backwards and it's a 1. But as it is, the few climbs wind up mattering quite a bit. 3

[And for the record, yes, I am having fun.]

Dwars door Vlaanderen: Robbie McEwen is a past winner. Still, there are a few bergs. 2

E3 Prijs Vlaanderen: The Flanders warmup, usually features about 60% of the climbs. 3

Brabantse Pijl: Meh. 1.5

Ronde van Vlaanderen: Hm, better skip the 1000 word description and just point out that hills do matter. Particularly when they hit 20%. 5

Gent-Wevelgem: It's important not to get stuck drooling over the Kemmelberg. The winners are almost all sprinters. 2

Paris-Roubaix: Possibly the hardest day in the sport. Maybe not, but it's close. 1

Scheldeprijs: For the love of god, Mark Cavendish won. Cavendish! 1

Amstel Gold Race: The race didn't used to finish on the Cauberg, and guys like Olaf Ludwig and Erik Dekker won here. The message is, the 33 climbs (or whatever) don't really eliminate too many riders. It's merely the uphill finish, on the Cauberg, that has shaped this as a climbers' classic. 6

La Fleche Wallonne: Watching the finish on the Mur de Huy is possibly the most painful moment of a classics fan's entire year. The menu isn't as packed as Amstel, but good god! 7

Liege-Bastogne-Liege: To me, this is the signature climbers' race. Yes, the climbs at Lombardia are longer, but far fewer in number. Moreover, the finish is one final uphill drag, ensuring that even if you somehow hang with the mountain men over La Redoute, the Cote de St. Nicholas, etc., you've still got to go uphill fast to win. The honor roll is completely devoid of sprinters, rouleurs, etc. 10 

Clasica San Sebastian: The perfectly balanced classic.Among the winners are Gert-Jan Theunisse and Xavier Florencio. Romans Vainsteins was once third. Pedro Delgado was once second. Confused? Not really. It's just a race for everyone, or more specifically, the Jaizkebel will only reward the climbers if they earn it. Exactly halfway between 1 and 10: 5.5

GP Ouest France-Plouay: I grew to appreciate this race in '08. Very cool, very hard. Twelve circuits of 19km with three ascents each. I suppose it resembles Amstel more than any other race on this list? I'm a little underinformed here, but what sounds right to me is... 6

Vattenfalls Classic: The organizers have done what they can to introduce some challenge to it, but it's still very much the province of the sprinters, if they can keep the breaks under control. 2

Paris-Brussels: Only included here because it's a prototype. Picture Paris-Roubaix with warm weather and a nice fresh coat of pavement. BOOOOOring. 1

Giro dell'Emilia: A hidden gem, though not if I have my way. 7

Paris-Tours: I'd mistaken it for Paris-Brussels part deux. Really, it's mostly flat but has some very interesting little wiggles at the end. Not quite as decisive as MSR, so let's call it... 2

Giro di Lombardia: The other climbers' classic. The Madonna del Ghisallo may be 45km from the line, but the Civiglio and San Fermo are right there. Taken together, it's a climbers' race and the honor roll is a parade of climbing stars. 9

and for good measure...some notable one-offs:

Beijing Olympics: I'd say the field were pretty well crushed by the constant ups and downs. Cancellara tries to give lie to the climber rating, but the guy's a great descender. 7

Varese Worlds: Everybody sold this as a climbers' race, and in the end it was, even if an Italian Flandrian stole the show. 7

Mendrisio Worlds: Apparently 20% more vertical than Varese, but we haven't seen it run yet. 7.1