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David L. Stanley

2018: In Spring, a Cyclist’s Thoughts Turn to the Classics

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David L StanleyDavid Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo, Velo-news.com, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). He blogs regularly for Dads Roundtable. Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Olympics' 50 Craziest Stories and Cycling Heroes. And there is his masterful telling of his bout with skin cancer, "Melanoma: It Started With a Freckle".

 

For cycling’s cognoscenti, it is the Classics season that lights the blue touch paper of cycling passion. The Grand Tours are indeed Grand-they’ve got the ‘human drama of athletic competition’ all over them, we all suffer from Tour and Giro and Vuelta withdrawal when the three weeks are over – yet it’s the urgency, the “now or never-ness” of the Classics that makes the Classics, well, classic.

What made this Classic season stellar on the men’s side was the variety. For the last ten years, we’ve watched gladly as a small group of riders dominated the races. Boonen, Cancellara, Valverde, van Avermaet – regardless of who was in the break with 40 km to go, if one of the big boys wasn’t in it, we all waited for the Boys to get up there and take their rightful place.

They’re gone now, mostly, the generation that dominated the last ten years. Now, we have Valgren and Benoot, Alaphilippe, Jungels – all young guys eager to claim the goods. Sagan, of course, dominates every conversation, as a three-time world champ does. (@petosagan is a great follow on Twitter.)

Peter Sagan

Peter Sagan wins Paris-Roubaix. Sirotti photo

How great was it to see the warhorse Terpstra taking two wins? Yep, pretty great.
We cannot forget Vincenzo Nibali. A four-time Grand Tour winner, he now owns his third monument title, Milan-San Remo, to go with his 2015 and 17 wins in Lombardia. A rarity, a GT champion who can win a monument. If he should pull off a fifth Grand Tour win this year, he will join which rider as the last man to win both a GT and a monument in the same season? (Answer at bottom.)

Niki Terpstra

Niki Terpstra wins the Tour of Flanders. Sirotti photo

It was a season for young men. The median age was 25/26. The oldest 33, the youngest 24. We saw 7 different winners for the ten classics.

Het Volk Michael Valgren-26
Strade Bianche Tiesj Benoot-24
Milan-San Remo Vincenzo Nibali-33
E3 Harelbeke Niki Terpstra-33
Gent-Wevelgem Peter Sagan-28
Tour of Flanders Niki Terpstra-33
Paris-Roubaix Peter Sagan-28
Amstel Gold Valgren
Fleche Wallone Julian Alaphilippe-25
Liege-Bastogne-Liege Bob Jungels-25

And how they won! Jungels with huge panache in the closing kms of L-B-L, Terpstra with tenacity and brains, Alaphilippe out-guts everyone on the Mur, Sagan with a mix of extraordinary power and the wisdom that comes to riders in their late 20s. Benoot, if you’ve been following me on Twitter, @DStan58, I’ve been tooting the horn of the Tiesj-Express since late last season. 

On a tragic note, we all feel the loss of Michael Goolaerts. A fine rider and young man, Goolie suffered a cardiac arrest, believed to be caused by an undiagnosable arrhythmia, which led to his death in Paris-Roubaix. As I write this early in the US on April 24, his memorial is being held in his hometown of Hallaar, Belgium. Think of him when you go for a ride today. Hug your spouse and kids extra hard – you just never know.

On the women’s side, the story is this: Anna van der Breggen rules. Against a wealth of fit and hungry women cyclists, Anna van der Breggen is the dominant cyclist of the last several years. With her four wins in eight Classics, the RN (yes, she finished her nursing degree in 2013, just in case this bike racing thing doesn’t work out) confirmed that she is now coming into her own. Anna can climb in the lead group, she sprints, she attacks, she can drop nearly anyone at will – in short, she is the classic all-rounder of the type we have not seen on the men’s side of late.

Anna Van der Breggen

Anna Van der Breggen

It’s simple. 8 races. 4 different winners. Van der Breggen wins five races. That’s pretty pretty pretty good.

Het Volk Christina Siggard-24  
Strade Bianche Anna van der Breggen-28
Milan-San Remo Anna van der Breggen 
E3 Harelbeke No Women’s Race
Gent-Wevelgem Marta Bastianelli-30
Tour of Flanders Anna van der Breggen 
Paris-Roubaix No Women’s Race
Amstel Gold Chantal Blaak-28
Fleche Wallone Anna van der Breggen 
Liege-Bastogne-Liege Anna van der Breggen

Heads-up to ASO – it’s time for a women’s Paris-Roubaix. If you can stage a U23 race, you can run a women’s race. We also need to see the women’s races on TV and live streams. It angers me that Eurosport and NBC Sports Gold haven’t figured out that if you show great competition, people will watch. Gender doesn’t matter. Advertisers will find that women will watch and zut alors! they buy cycling gear and Clif-bars, too. My Olympic Channel feed the last three weeks has been nothing but replays of curling. Nothing wrong with curling, but it’s not in the same league as women’s World Tour cycling, is it?

It was a spectacular spring. Surprise winners, Sagan still the focal point, and van der Breggen cements her place with the greats. I do love the Tours, but it’s the Classics that make me bundle up and head out for a ride on a 40°F day, with a 15 mph NW breeze hitting me in the face and the imminent threat of spitting rain. You can hear the peepers, the odd wildflower is fighting up through the muck in the ditch, and a few snow berms are still hidden, unmelted, in the deep woods. I advise you to do the same. Report back, okay?

Trivia answer (H/T to Cillian Kelly of @IrishPeloton) – Gianni Bugno, 1990, the Giro and Milan-San Remo. In bocca al lupo, Vincenzo!

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