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What The Hell Has Gotten Into Classics Course Planners!?

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I know we've been rolling out the details of the bigger races of 2010 as they've been released. And there has been much to discuss. But sometime in the last ten days or so, a number of the demi-classics published their course information... and if you're one of the masochists who has to race over the cobbles in spring, you are in for one extended beat-down after another.

Now, I know that whether or not this year's edition of E3 Prijs Harelbeke is considered a tough one has more to do with the weather and how hard the peloton decides to stomp on the pedals, but consider this:

Gent-Wevelgem has moved into the pre-monument pole position, and in order to justify its place they added a good 50km to the route. Part of that will come from a romp all the way to the coast, but the remainder of the extra km comes from a detour into France. Oh, and instead of four categorized climbs (two romps over the Kemmelberg and Montenberg), they've nudged the total up to... 16.

* The day before is E3 Prijs Harelbeke, which from a cursory glance isn't changing much. Might be one extra climb -- this isn't the official, detailed, obsessive preview, after all. But considering they lost their ticket as THE Flanders dress rehearsal, it's notable that they haven't shrunk the course at all. Same old hammerfest.

* Next up, it's Driedaagse de Panne, which usually starts with a Flemish Ardennes stage, a flat romp to the coast, and two short concluding stages in De Panne. Stage 1, Middlekerke to Oudenaarde (!), isn't remarkably harder than last year's opening festivity, traditionally a very hard stage, with 12 climbs concluding a few km from the line. And stage 2 had the Kemmelberg last year too. No great change.

Still, taken together that's four straight hard days in the Flemish Ardennes and... whatever they call the area around Kemmel, Ypres, and Poperinge. Twelve climbs on Saturday, 16 on Sunday, 12 more on Monday, and a romp over the Kemmelberg into a probable headwind Tuesday. This is a bit beyond the usual runup to de Ronde.

Oh, and is it me, or do all these races suddenly have pretty nice looking websites (links above)? E3 Prijs Harelbeke is particularly heavy on cool graphics. It's like this is the year the spotlight shines brightest on the Classics... and they know it.