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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Saturday, February 29, 2020

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2019 Tour de France | 2019 Giro d'Italia

Old people love to give good advice; it compensates them for their inability to set a bad example. - Francois de La Rochefoucauld

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EF Pro Cycling previews the Northern Classics

The team sent me this:

After a winter of anticipation, fans flock to see beloved home teams open up the season. New players suit up in fresh uniforms for the first time, new stories wait to be written, and old traditions to be deepened. The opening day — it’s a feeling that touches all sports at all levels.

In Belgium, and for cycling’s races over the old cobblestone roads, it’s known as “Opening Weekend.” And it’s finally here.

The Tour of Flanders, or Ronde van Vlaanderen, is Belgium’s Super Bowl. It’s the race families sit down with neighbors to watch. But before Flanders, the playoffs start a few weeks earlier on a late-February weekend. Opening Weekend consists of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday, followed by Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. These races mark the real start of the European road cycling season for both men’s and women’s pelotons.

Both races rove across Flanders, taking on many of the same roads and steep, cobblestone climbs that test racers throughout the spring. Although winning one would make most riders’ seasons, the top stars hope to build their fitness through the coming rounds of racing and be at their best for the grand finale.

“Paris-Roubaix and the Belgian classics, these are the most beautiful races of the year,” EF Education First Pro Cycling’s captain for the classics and former Omloop winner Sep Vanmarcke says. “The racing is hard, on cobbles and small roads with lots of wind but the fans are always very enthusiastic.”

Sep Vanmarcke

Sep Vanmarcke wins the 2019 Bretagne Classic.

New Zealander Tom Scully has fallen in love with the classics, too. “The real season starts in Belgium,” he says. “It’s as hard as it gets up there. One-day races mean you have one opportunity, one shot at getting it right. My most vivid memory is the first 100-metres of the first sector of Opening Weekend—the speed and intensity on the approach, and then the thundering sound and vibration as we rattled across that first 100 meters.”

Classics riders such as Sep and Tom have to be brawnier than the climbers who race for prizes in the mountainous grand tours. Their favored races twist and turn over muddy tractor trails paved with rocks. For every minute of every 200-plus-kilometre classic, they must focus on getting to the front, ducking and dodging through the peloton at full speed, avoiding crashes like running backs avoiding tackles. On descents, they go faster than 100 km/hr, and there’s no soft grass on which they might land. And the crowning points of their seasons come before winter is really over, when northern Europe is still mostly grey and cold and wet. The classics are synonymous with harsh weather. But that doesn’t keep anyone from the roads, the bars, the starts and finishes in small Belgian towns. It’s an enormous celebration, no matter what.

In Belgium, they celebrate such toughness. For weeks before Opening Weekend, the sports pages of newspapers are full of columns about the favorites’ chances. On TV, retired racers talk for hours, analyzing small course changes and the teams’ rosters. Their favorites are always Flandriens, of course.

Every stretch of road in Flanders has its story. Every hill has been the site of a legendary winning move. Every corner has seen a crash. Every cobbled path has witnessed the ambitions of a famous rider. While Flanders is no bigger than Connecticut on paper, its lack of breadth is made up for by the depth with which it has been mapped in the minds of its people and racing fans. Much of that mapping has been done by bike races.

On Opening Weekend, the people of Flanders and those who’ve traveled to see the races will trek once again into their countryside, carrying their cases of cheap beer, their lawn chairs and umbrellas and boom boxes. They will organize impromptu roadside parties with thousands of their compatriots and wait for the riders to pass.

The team, the fans, and our directors, are all ready. It’s time for our classics opening day.

“Bear in mind that the last time that you’ve really seen riders on those roads and in those conditions was the previous April,” says EF Pro Cycling director Charly Wegelius. “It’s the same for the riders as it is for the fans. They are just raring to go. You see those pictures come on the TV, and you start to feel the atmosphere.”

Now, Flanders eagerly awaits the next episodes of its national mythology.

Our squad:
Sep Vanmarcke
Jens Keukeleire
Tom Scully
Logan Owen
Jonas Rutsch
Julius van den Berg

The UAE Tour ended early because of the Coronavirus. Here's the BBC report:

Here's the 2020 UAE Tour page with the organizer's race cancellation notice.

Coronavirus outbreak: UAE Tour cancelled due to two 'suspected' cases.
Cycling's governing body, the UCI, says the final two stages of the UAE Tour were cancelled because of two "suspected" cases of coronavirus.

The body says the decision to cancel was taken while still waiting for test results, but was "in the interests of the health of riders and their staff".

Organisers had earlier said that two Italian "staff members" had tested positive for the virus.

Britain's Adam Yates, who led after stage five, was declared the winner.
Riders at the event, including Yates and fellow Briton Chris Froome, are now being tested for the virus.

Adama Yates

Adam Yates was declared the winner of the 2020 UAE Tour.

"The UCI is doing everything within its power to ensure the health of riders and people concerned," read a statement.

"The country's public authorities have taken the health measures recommended in such circumstances, including testing everyone involved in the race.

"Depending on the results obtained, these individuals will either be able to leave the country or, if contamination is confirmed, will be placed in quarantine."

Before the Tour was cancelled, Danish cyclist Michael Morkov had travelled from the UAE to Berlin for the World Track Cycling Championships.

He is currently in isolation in his hotel room but a team spokesperson says that has been done as a "precaution", adding that Morkov, who is to be tested for coronavirus, is "fine and showing no symptoms".

Denmark team officials will meet with the UCI on Saturday morning to discuss the situation.

Morkov, due to compete in the madison on Sunday, flew to Germany on Thursday and was present at the velodrome that night.

On Friday the UCI added it was "closely monitoring" the impact on the championships in Berlin following the cancellation of the UAE Tour.

Cycling's governing body added that a "follow-up" to the preventive measures currently in place in Berlin would be determined once the test results from Abu Dhabi have been obtained.

You can read the entire story here.

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