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Notes from the cobbles desk

Patrick Verhoest

Cross season may not be quite over with one more weekend of racing, but road season is clearly upon us, especially with the formal opening of the cobbles season in a mere thirteen days at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. As we get closer to those rough races in Belgium and northern France that we love so dearly, interesting bits of news are trickling out.

First, the Etixx-QuickStep machine and its cogs seem well-oiled with Nikki Terpstra taking a win in Qatar for the second year running and Tom Boonen featuring ominously in spots 3-5 of all the bunch sprints, which is interesting because... the Paris Roubaix route for 2015 was announced a little while ago. There are a few changes to last year's route, though they are mostly cosmetic - but what is that to stop us at the Café from looking at it more in depth? The race is reverting back to the route used in 2013, which means the distance will drop from 257 to 254.5 kilometers and the race will go from 28 to 27 secteurs of cobbles. The actual distance of the cobbles increases, though, from 51.1km to 52.5km. The changes concern sections 24 and 23 (the fifth and sixth sections respectively) of last year's route, which are replaced by the Vertain à St-Martin-sur-Escallion section. Though the section, which clocks in at 2.327 meters long at a 3/5 difficulty rating, is definitely harder, it comes approximately 35 kilometers before the Trouée Arenberg, historically the first truly important secteur of the race. So, the race should retain the same feel as the last several editions.

More interesting were the announcements of the wildcard teams invited to the Tour of Flanders. Large parts of the selection are not surprising in the slightest with Team Roompot, Wanty-Groupe Gobert, and Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise representing the low countries' professional continental teams. Also expected was the inclusion of French pro-conti teams Cofidis and Europcar, Bora-Argon 18, and MTN-Qhubeka. The latter brings perennial classics hope Edvald Boasson Hagen to the race as well as other hard-men sprinters Gerard Ciolek and Tyler Farrar. Farrar has long held a love of the classics, but turned his focus away from them in later years after realizing it dulled the edge he needed for bunch sprints. If Farrar is rejuvenated following his move from a long stint in the Garmin franchise, he could belong in the group of outsiders with a chance to win or podium if the race is not too selective along, epitomized by Alexander Kristoff.

More unusual was the inclusion of Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela, known far more for their climbers (and a few questionable names on their roster) than classics studs. But, hey, they have one crazy Dutchman in Johnny Hoogerland Oscar Gatto and somebody had to fill the last slot... right?