Every year Liege-Bastogne-Liege marks the passing of the Classics season and the shift toward the big-ticket stage racing phase of the year. And every year, it's a little jarring. Gone from my daily consciousness are the likes of Boonen and Cancellara, Pozzato and Hincapie, Quick Step vs. (*)-Lotto. In comes Contador, Armstrong, the Schlecks, guys like Sastre and Menchov and Leipheimer and Vande Velde whom you haven't seen a lick of so far. Ardennes Week is supposed to soften the transition by reintroducing most of those guys before the classics curtain comes down, but it never really does much to help me. Hell, the story of the week was Phillippe Gilbert, so if I wasn't thinking of Tour legends I doubt I was alone.
This year is worse than ever, for me at least. Thanks to the Treaty of Tordesillas v2.0, wherein Gavia and I divided up the planet so as to allocate most of the classics teams, riders and countries to me with her taking the stage-racing world, I pretty much invested myself fully in Matters of the North. I can stumble through articles in Dutch now, at least well enough to judge whether the subject merits google-translating (ahem!). I can tell you the difference between the quality of cobbles in one place or another, in some cases, and where applicable explain why this matters. In short, when it comes to the classics, I got in deep this year.
All of which leaves the Grand Tours like something of an ex-girlfriend from High School. Sure, I have heard of her, I actually once knew her rather well, but if you start quizzing me on details it won't take long to trip me up pretty good. The difference, of course, is that I don't run a blog that requires me to get reacquainted with any high school ex-girlfriends, and for a long list of reasons am happy not to go there. The Grand Tours, however, are starting to sing to me in that voice... And so the second big cycle of the season begins again.
A couple people have asked me for a post-mortem on the Classics. The long version could go on a while, but the short, blog-friendly version goes like this: it was another great season with a million stories that come and go each day. We learned a few things, about the incredible strength of Fabian Cancellara, the almost-as-incredible strength of Tom Boonen, the even more impressive versatility and determination of Phillippe Gilbert, and so on. Some less happy things as well: injuries, plans not panning out, etc. But the storylines are replaced almost as quickly as they appear.
That's what classics are -- single days where life and death (the racing version) unfold utterly and rather quickly before your eyes. Like some horribly cliche'd novel from the "class struggle" genre, the riders roll out of bed most days for about 10 weeks, get up, put on their kit, roll out into the crisp, possibly dank, air of a Belgian (or French or Italian or Dutch) spring morning, ride like there's no tomorrow -- because there isn't -- and then return back to their temporary home, to rest for another day of the same. If this were the story of everyday life, we'd roll our eyes and look for a more interesting book. But there is nothing "everyday" about riding your bike like these guys do, in the places they go.
OK, enough. So remind me, Liquigas have sorted out who their team leader is for the stage races, right?