Sudden onslaught of news regarding the Classics, because it’s never not topical, but getting more so by the day.
The biggest news is that the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is a mere 10 days away, and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne a day later, which means that everything happening now has the potential to affect the outcome of those races. Two examples of this involve Quick Step, where Tom Boonen hit the deck in the opening stage of the Tour of Oman yesterday (but finished today’s stage insisting he is totally fine), and that his understudy, Francisco Gaviria, won the opening sprint in the Volta ao Algarve today.
Gaviria is not on any startlists for opening/premature Cobbles weekend, but Boonen is, and he’s signaling that he won’t be in recovery mode. Wherever Gaviria goes, it’s apparent that he and Andre Greipel might have a bit of a heated rivalry developing, after the Colombian veered a bit too far off his line for the Gorilla’s (rather picky) taste.
But there are other less subtle things afoot...
Today, Paris-Roubaix announced the addition of two early cobbles sectors, near Briastre and Solesmes, which were uncovered from editions of the race 30 years ago, and re-inserted here. The two sectors consist of a hard 3km effort, which I think will be the fourth secteur, and a short 800-meter stretch that — gasp! — goes uphill, at least by the race’s flattish standard. Ultimately the race will see an extra 2.2km of cobbles, meaning something is coming out, but that sort of thing doesn’t sound as exciting. Anyway, we will parse out all the details closer to the event. There are always new details in Paris-Roubaix, every year. Here’s the map.
Not to be outdone, the Amstel Gold Race announced changes that might completely alter the outcome, effective immediately! They have removed the Cauberg, decisively featured as a final gasp since 2003. Now, the Cauberg will be ridden as it had prior to the final lap of the race, but rather than hitting it one last time right before the line, the race will circumvent it to the south and finish just west of the hill. Map:
That leaves the Bemelerberg, a nearly 1-km climb of about 5% average, as the last obstacle to the finish. And allows for the possibility that a true sprint will develop, as it had in the past before the Cauberg was inserted into the finish area. Note: the top 31 riders last year were within seven seconds of each other. This was a function of moving the finish line from the top of the Cauberg to some 2km up the road. When the finish was on the top, you could see top ten lists with a minute or more of separation. The last major change had already tightened up the finish considerably. This change will tighten things up even more, one might expect. But it’s still a long, hard day in the saddle. And a lovely day of watching for us fans.
Last note for now is that the Tour of Turkey is off the calendar for 2017. I hadn’t followed the rumors so this is a bit sudden, but apparently teams were reluctant to take riders off the Ardennes classics and send them to Turkey, which is apparently not as calm a place to visit as they’d like right now. [Can the Tour of California be next? Heh heh...] Anyway, they insist up and down that the race will return so for now it’s gone but not forgotten. Maybe one less B-list sprinter for your FSA DS team?