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Ardennes Week: Circle of Champions

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Consider this post a sort of building block for other points of analysis, as well as a little stream of consciousness from yours truly as I try to switch from the Cobbles to the hills. There's been plenty of discussion about what kinds of riders win in the Ardennes, as compared to the Cobbles or anywhere else. They're pretty easily identified... since most of them have at one point been a leader in a grand tour or other top stage race. I suppose you could call them climbers, though a tad more explosive than a pure Basque mountain goat.

Another interesting difference between this week from the one we had a fortnight ago is how the Ardennes are more like a race series. Full disclosure, I am utterly devoted to Flanders-Roubaix week for the drama and misery. Each of de Ronde, Gent and Paris-Roubaix is unique and favors different guys, albeit with overlap. But the uniqueness of these races makes them a season all their own. And the sudden, random eliminations raises the atmosphere to Shakespearian tragedy.

Tragedy is generally absent in the Ardennes, where the racing is comparatively dignified and beautiful. Without the same variations and sudden eliminations, riders can usually make it through the entire week in one piece. Since a good number of those riders double as the heads of state for the sport all summer, it shouldn't surprise folks that you tend to see a lot of the same names in the top 10 (and 15, and 20...) at Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallonne, and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Let's do a quick scan:

2007:

Last year no less than five riders placed top 10 at all three: DiLuca (3-3-win), Rebellin (2-win-5), Valverde (6-2-2), Schleck (10-7-3), and Kessler (4-4-8). Additionally, Ricco, Bettini and Boogerd placed top ten in two races each. Of thirty top-10 places in the Ardennes series, 21 were held by repeaters.

2006:

Two years ago, Frank Schleck (Amstel winner) and Patrik Sinkewitz (doper) were the only two riders to bag three top-10s. Michael Boogerd, Karsten Kroon, Paolo Bettini, Danilo DiLuca, M.A.M. Perdiguero, and Serguey Ivanov all took two each. That's 18 of 30 top-10s.

2005:

David Extebarria was the sole rider to do the triple, but a whopping nine riders had two top-10 placings each: DiLuca (double winner), Rebellin, Boogerd, Celestino, Perdiguero, Sinkewitz, Freire, Vicioso, and Evans. That's 21 placings of 30.

2004:

Rebellin scores the historic triple win! Matti Kessler chipped in his own "triple" of top-10s, while five other riders (Boogie, DiLuca, Dekker, Scarponi and Vinokourov) took two placings each. A full 16 of 30 spots.

Point is, you're pretty sure to see most of the same names over and over. In fact, a quick glance shows that you see plenty of the same names year after year. With a little work I could probably prove that you won't see that kind of recurring success in Flanders-Roubaix week. And with another short post I could probably guess at least half of the top-10 at la Fleche tomorrow, something I plan to do shortly. But repetition isn't unwelcomed in this case: we're used to seeing this suite of great riders trading blows day after day in the grand tours, vanquishing each other and rejoining battle the next day. This week is a repackaging of the grand tours into Classics form. As a fan, that's pretty hard to complain about.