The Spring Classics: four things of note.

I’ve had something of a break, so I thought I’d ease back in with four brief observations from the Spring Classics. Here goes…

1. Spartacus is still Fab

Fabian Cancellara drops Peter Sagan at the Tour of Flanders

Cancellara drops Sagan on the final cobbled climb at the Tour of Flanders. Photo: http://www.bicycle.net

It is really very hard for those who haven’t followed cycling for a long period of time to understand quite how magnificent Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard) is. Most female (and indeed male) fans have a ‘crush’ on the Swiss rider, and with good reason. Not only is he the most handsome man in the peloton (man-crush alert), he is, and feel free to quote me if you want, an absolute flipping monster.

After a dreadful end to 2012, punctuated by a terrible crash in the Olympic Road Race, the big man set about reminding everyone that he’s still got it, Thank You Very Much.

Nicknamed Spartacus due to his warrior like attitude, he has won a stage in a Grand Tour every year since 2004 – apart from in 2005. He’s a four time World Champion time triallist as well, winning  in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010.

He is also a wonderfully proficient one day rider, and his amazing solo finishes have become something of a party trick. Here’s the deal: he’s going to Time Trial it to the end, and you’d better hope you can sit on his wheel. It’s not rocket science, but by George it is effective.

This is something young Peter Sagan (Cannondale) learned the hard way at the Tour of Flanders. Sagan and Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol) found themselves off the front with Cancellara on the final cobbled climb, but there was little either man could do when the Swiss decided it was time to go. He kicked, Sagan couldn’t live with it, and Cancellara time trialled to the finish.

Cancellara completed a fantastic double, clinching Paris-Roubaix a week later in a breathtaking sprint finish. He beat Sep Vanmarcke (Blanco Procycling) by half a bike length, overcoming some extremely heavy marking throughout the race.

Unfortunately, it has been announced that Cancellara will not ride the 2013 edition of the TdF. His schedule has been amended to focus on the World Championships. It is a shame for viewers – the classics have reminded everyone how good he really is. It will also feel very strange – the first week of the Tour will not be the same without Fab in yellow.

2. Sky need a lesson in romance

Sky's Chris Froome looks on

Chris Froome was nowhere to be seen at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Sky won’t be worried come the summer, but it is a tad disappointing from them. Photo: http://www.telegraph.co.uk

I should probably say straight up that I am not suggesting that Team Sky riders do not know how to treat women. I’m certainly not suggesting that Peter Sagan should teach them.

No, what I am saying is that Sky has had a, well, rubbish Classics season. Dave Brailsford was talking pre season about how much the Classics meant to Sky, and how hard they were training for them. To finish without a win is pretty dreadful for such a high profile team who were clearly targeting victory.

Understanding why Sky came up short is to understand the nature of the Spring Classics. Sky are insanely good at stage races. They manage results over the long term, day to day, consistently. In a Grand Tour, you’ve got 21 days to think out a strategy, adapt it and put it into practice.

But a Grand Tour is to a Spring Classic, what five course, silver service, ‘no elbows on the table’ fine dining is to a bun fight. If you don’t get stuck in with the rest, you are going to get elbowed in the face whilst someone reaches over you and helps themselves to what should have been yours.

The whole point of a Spring Classic is that any rider who is feeling strong on the day can have a go and probably pull it off. It’s not about science and marginal gains – it’s about romance and having a bloody good go. Team tactics do of course have a little bit to do with it, but they are not the be all and end all. Predictability is the killer – sitting on the front as a team may be brilliant when marking another GC contender, but Spring Classics are all about the stage win and if you are too predictable you aren’t going to get it.

Unfortunately for Sky, they don’t really possess a single rider capable of a brilliantly strong and wonderfully unpredictable ride just yet. Worryingly for everyone else, it probably won’t be long at all until they find or make one.

3. There’s no need to keep waiting for new talent. It is here.

Peter Sagan gropes podium girl

Peter Sagan made the most of coming second at the Tour of Flanders. He showed his class at the Classics. Photo: http://www.guardian.co.uk

There is no longer any doubt that Peter Sagan is the most exciting new rider in the peloton. In a fashion not unlike the Incredible Hulk (one of Sagan’s ever expanding celebration repertoire) the 23 year old Slovakian smashed onto the pro scene last year, winning the points classification at the Tour de France at his first time of trying.

It was not a flash in the pan. His ability to climb makes him a potent contender, and at the Classics he showed again that he has what it takes to be a great. Despite not being able to live with Cancellara at the Tour of Flanders, he finished a well deserved second. He also came second best behind Gerald Ciolek (MTN Qhubeka) at Milan-San Remo, but won Gent-Wevelgem, wheelying over the line.

Some might say he made up for his second place at Flanders by pinching a podium girl on the bottom as she kissed Fabian Cancellara, others would say he needs to grow up. It hasn’t been as widely reported that he later apologised to the podium girl at the Brabantse Pijl race, before giving her a bouquet of flowers.

Dan Martin wins Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2013

Dan Martin showed his form and ability, out-climbing Joaquim Rodriguez. He will be an amazing asset for Garmin this summer. Photo: http://www.slipstreamsports.com

If Sagan is the exciting new sprinting talent, then Garmin Sharp’s Dan Martin must be the new climbing one. Martin, nephew of Irish cycling legend Stephen Roche, has kept his head down over the last few seasons, looking up only to win a stage of the Vuelta Espana in 2011. That’s not to say that he has been anything other than consistently good, as though he has always planned to build to something big. This year could be just that.

He showed his class in the last of the Spring Classics at the weekend, Liege-Bastogne-Liege. In a style reminiscent of some of the greats, he climbed his way onto the back wheel of Joaquim Rodriguez (Team Katusha) – no slouch at climbing and 2012 winner of La Fleche Wallone – before taking a moment, and then saying goodbye to the Spaniard in emphatic fashion. ‘Explosive’ is a word that can be overused, but to use anything else in this instance would be underplaying the whole thing.

Martin’s victory can’t be celebrated without a word for Ryder Hesjedal, who left everything on the road for his teammate. Hesjedal looked incredibly strong and is perhaps now favourite to defend his Giro D’Italia title. It seems unlikely that Garmin will split up the partnership of Hesjedal and Martin – if they ride the Grand Tours together, Garmin could well see both a GC winner and a KoM winner in the same races.

4. Don’t worry if your spring training has been ruined by the weather…

One of David Millar's tweets during Milan-San Remo

David Millar provided commentary via Twitter during the half time interval at Milan-San Remo 2013

It’s the same for the pros too. Milan-San Remo was shortened and everyone had to get on buses for a time due to the snow, and Gent-Wevelgem was shortened due to the cold.

I’ve just remembered that they do quite often go to training camps in Mallorca though, so maybe it’s not the same at all.

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