I’m so old I can remember when Paris-Tours and the Giro di Lombardia were run in a way that you could win both of them. Well, not you necessarily, but Rampaging Philippe Gilbert at least. Those were the days. RPG was something to see, and I’ve spilled a few bottles of electronic ink this year in wrestling with that subject. So I’ll sidestep that rabbit hole and just marvel at what can happen tomorrow in Tours. But not without a detour back to some more familiar turf...
Quick Paris-Tours Preview!
The Fall Sprinters’ Classic is yet another entry in the unkillable cycling nicknames department, since pretty much everyone knows that this isn’t really a sprint race, even if it’s a pretty good race for sprinters. I mean, I guess the name is OK if it refers to a race that’s a classic, which can be won by guys who are sprinters, provided we recognize that “sprinters” are really just guys who are great at being cyclists generally, but especially great at the last 100 meters of a flat race (and maybe not so great in the mountains). That’s what this is.
The biggest question is, like most classics, what sort of race will we see? Last year Paris-Tours happened right before the flattest, boringest Worlds in history, and all the sprinters were in peak form. So Fernando Gaviria launched himself off the front of a ridiculously strong, and of course very aggressive, Quick Step team to punk the sprint royalty and win his most beautiful trophy. Which basically turned Paris-Tours back into what it usually is, rather than allowing it to fulfill the misnomer of a true “sprinters’ classic.” Year after year, small groups or lone individuals employ a broader skillset than “I can sit on until the last 100 meters” to go clear of the peloton, and it almost always works because people are utterly unable to form alliances fast enough in the wake of a convincing attack by riders from strong teams.
That’s almost surely what will happen this year. Big bunch finishes have happened in 2013, 2010 and 2007, so mathematically I guess you can’t dismiss the possibility, but it’s hard to see who wins from this style of race. I mean, Lotto would with Greipel, or the other Lotto for Groenewegen, maybe DiData with Cavendish, or even Cofidis with Bouhanni, but that again asks the question, why would the peloton allow this to happen? Only the Lottos are strong enough to push things in that direction, but Quick Step, BMC, AG2R, Sunweb and a host of others will probably prefer a more tactical affair and will attack constantly in the final hour. So again, you might get a bunch finish, but I seriously doubt it.
Some hot hands to watch include Cofidis’ Christophe LaPorte, Greipel, Oliver Naesen and Rudy Barbier at AG2R, Phil Bauhaus at Sunweb and others. But all eyes will be on Quick Step, who bring back the last two winners in Gaviria and Matteo Trentin for a sprint scenario or other mayhem, along with the usual classic suspects of Lampaert, Stybar and Terpstra.
DVV Ronse: Where Belgian Cross Gets Closest to God
The DVV series gets underway Sunday in Ronse, or more specifically around the corner from downtown Ronse, at the HotondCross, a/k/a the GP Mario De Clercq, a grassy, pretty circuit around the highest (cough) mountain in Flanders. This is big, big news.
You see, when we last checked into Ronse, it was Podium Cafe headquarters during the Ronde van Vlaanderen, and the DVV series does a nice job of evoking the feelings we are all really thinking about, kicking off with Ronse and then the Koppenberg in three weeks. Of all the great crosses, no two tell the story of De Ronde better than these.
The Hotondberg is the watch tower at the southeast corner of the geological feature that includes the Koppenberg, Paterberg, Oude Kwaremont and others. The linkage is a ridge that connects the two Flemish economic powerhouses of Ronse and Oudenaarde (I am using the most recent data, from 1475) a mere 10km apart. From the top of the Hotond, you could maybe look down and see all of the great places of the Ronde van Vlaanderen’s final phase... though not very well and probably there are a bunch of trees in the way. At least you can look west and see that nuke plant, and maybe Roubaix in the distance. You can look south and see the less notorious but still lovely rolling expanses of Hainault Province. I can almost taste the waffles as I type. Look east and a bit south straight into the Kruisberg, nearly in central Ronse, and you can still hear someone arguing about what that rotten Bauer did to poor innocent Claude Criquelion.
What you can’t do is ride your bike up the Hotond and get some grand idea of where the CX course is. Nothing about the top of the climb stands out, other than it’s yet another pretty spot with an intriguing looking pub on it. If you ride the N36 over the top from Ronse, you’ll pass by Zandstraat, and that’s where they stage the start/finish area of the Cross.
I wouldn’t call it a grassy crit, but the features of the GP Mario De Clercq, apart from Mario himself (now managing the Kevin Pauwels team, a/k/a Marlux-Napoleon Games*, are some grassy run-ups or steeps. Last year Wout Van Aert won after getting his ass kicked by Mathieu van der Poel, only for the Dutchman’s bike to explode a bit too early. Such is the life of a cross warrior. Highlights below:
It’s a very lovely race and a very Belgian setting. Ronse is Flanders in all of its gritty faded glory, as opposed to Oudenaarde and a few other places where the fadedness has given way to tourism and adorable cuteness. All of which I fucking love. But I think maybe the grittiness is a bit more in keeping with cycling. The event is a fine place to start the Belgian leg of the season, but things get much harder on October 22, at Koksijde, and November 1 back here at the Koppenberg. Oh, and next weekend is crazy Zonhoven, which always kind of leaves me smitten but speechless. So yeah, it’s all starting now.
- The people who gave us a lot of bad podium costumes and giant beers.