Ah, Gent, city of my, er, visit. It's a large version of a Flemish population hub, which is to say it's not normally all that accommodating to a bike race. The logistics of races are best left to the myriad of medium-sized towns who would drool over the possibility of hosting a race like the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (such as Kuurne, our host Sunday, which is a suburb Harelbeke, which is a suburb of Kortrijk). So having the race in Gent to open the year is a bit of extra specialness. It's a wonderful town, large enough to host a long list of great places to eat and hang out, but small enough to retain its old world charm and traditional Flemish pleasures, like beer and frietes and looking at art or torture implements. Honestly, I still don't know what the hell is happening here:
Let's just get back to cycling...
What Season Is This?
We are just a couple days out from the start of the Belgian Road Racing season! Notice what I didn't say? That it's the start of the cobbled classics. I've noticed that CyclingNews have deemed it Belgian Week (no problem with that) and have talked about this being the start of the classics season. I guess you could say that's technically true, as the Omloop is the first race that plays out like those things we call the classics. It's a one-day event, people care about it, and it calls for a variety of skills plus a heaping helping of aggression, unless you just want to lose to Kristoff in a sprint.
But for me the Omloop and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne aren't the start of the cobbled classics. Dwars door Vlaanderen is. And that's when you'll start to see big philosophical pieces about the beauty and sadness of the Cobbled Classics posted here at the Cafe.
Why Dwars and not now? Both are 200km semi-classics, no? Simple: nobody from the Omloop EVER WINS DE RONDE! And really, the underlying reason for this is what really nails it. It's too early.
Classics form is honed through some solid early base, light winter racing, then starting to heat up the engine as of this weekend, or perhaps as late as Tirreno or Paris-Nice. By Milano-Sanremo you want to be going hard, though many a racer will leave it all on the roads of Liguria and its 300km jaunt. Those guys almost never win Flanders either. [Though Cancellara missed the MSR-Roubaix double in 2008 by the length of Boonen's bike. And of course, for every rule, there's a Merckxception. And Kelly, once.]
But when you get to Dwars, it's game on. We are talking 11 days from Waregem to Oudenaarde, with no interruptions from the mass assault on the cobbles. That's doable. That's not the same as spreading out a peak from late February to early April. That is not reasonable, and that's why in 70 years of both races no rider has won them in the same year, not even once. And that's the rub. The Cobbled Classics are a series of battles that are connected to each other by the riders themselves, by a three-week-long exchange of blows across the hardest surfaces of northern Europe. That there's an earlier, similar-looking race contested by a somewhat separate group of guys on early form changes nothing.
So yeah, it's Flanders classic racing this weekend. Just don't call it the start of the Cobbled Classics.
BuhBye BPost Bank!
Say hello to the new name, DVV Insurance Trophy, which becomes arguably the coolest Cyclocross series in the world (top two easily), notwithstanding its relative yawn of a name. This is the home to KoppenbergCross, Hamme-Zogge, Essen, Loenhout, Bale and others. Murderer's Row. Some finer points:
- DVV Trophy will retain the season-long timing-based standings, as opposed to the points used in pretty much every other series worldwide. They will not award bonus seconds at the finish, but there will be a sprint point where 15, 10 and 5 seconds will be given out. By which, surely, they mean to the general classification, not to the day's event.
- Ronse is the season opener on October 9.
- Lille/Roubaix replaces Waasland-St. Niklaas, which will make people think of the Roubaix Velodrome and get all excited (guilty as charged), but is really about a wooded course in another part of town.
- Prizes include a bump for women to 30,000 EUR and a 5,000 EUR prize for team standings.
Enter the Great Flemish Vacuum
Does anyone else see this interview as a sign that Tom Boonen is more likely than not to retire after this year? I sure did, though I did not get the sense he's made up his mind yet. Nobody would blame him, between the lack of anything left to prove, the kids at home, and the injuries that got maybe as bad as ever late last year.
So yeah. Boonen might retire. I thought he defeated retirement? Also, what does this do to the future of Belgium's existence, leaving behind a vacuum the likes of which we haven't seen since March 19, 1978, a day that will live in infamy? I'm not terribly prepared to say what that looks like or who might fill it; the answers aren't obvious. But I will harken back to 2004 the year after Museeuw (or the good version anyway) and before Boonen. It was a pretty interesting year, which is to say that the nature of cycling did an amusing job of abhorring that vacuum.
Anyway, that's just a hint that maybe we can spend some time in the next six weeks trying to figure out if there's anyone who can take Tommeke's place. Which is to say, stand in it when he stops doing so; to be the next Boonen, that might not happen for a while.
About This Weekend...
You've seen enough to know that we have our first truly busy weekend happening, at least as far as consensus is concerned. [It's already been busy for fans of pre-Omloop winter racing, I'm told.] And yes, I am talking about...
Evelyn Stevens' Hour Record attempt! It's happening Saturday at noon local (Colorado) time in Colorado Springs. VeloNews has a live feed page ready to go. Stevens thinks she's perfectly primed to beat Bridie O'Donnell's record of 46.882 km, from what I recall seeing over the last few days, but until it happens, it hasn't happened....
Michael Van Staeyen joins the list of walking wounded pulling out of the Omloop, along with (most notably) Andre Greipel, Yves Lampaert, Johan Van Summeren and Stijn Devolder. Summie, especially, is dealing with a rather ominous heart defect, something which many people live with but which can make it risky for him to race a bike. Greipel has a broken rib, which normally isn't the sort of thing you'd expect to slow him down, but it's early enough in a long season to not start screwing up priorities. Lampaert has a fractured sternum from a crash. Didn't catch what's ailing Devo. Check our injury thread for more.
And now for some frietes...