I’m in a quandary. I’m sad that the spring classics are coming to an end, but I’m also excited that the Giro is just around the corner, along with a tantalising menu of smaller stage races all building up to the 100th Tour de France.
It got me thinking, what kind of race do I prefer? I was going to have a bit of a debate with myself, but that just leads to people giving me funny looks, so I’ve asked Kitty to help me decide.
Ant: So what do you say Kitty, if it had to be one or the other, what would it be?
Kitty: I love the grand tours: the Giro is elegant, the Tour is razzle-dazzle and the Vuelta is just hot and crazy. However, if for some inexplicable reason [like me coming up with a daft idea for an article? – Ant], I was forced to choose between watching the classics or the grand tours, I would have to say I would pick the classics. Why? Because…
… There’s no ‘riding into form’ in these races. You are either at the top of your game or you’re spat out at the side of the road somewhere. It’s one race: glory or despair, determined in a few harder-than-hard hours. Give it everything.
… You have to have a game plan but you have to know when to change it or even throw it out. For a rider to win this race, he has to read the race perfectly, he has to attack at the right time and he has to be flexible in his thinking and riding.
… You have to be prepared to risk losing the race in order to win the race. There’s no minimising losses, no minutes in hand as a cushion for the next day, no end-of-tour time trial to claw yourself onto the podium. If you want to win the race, you have to race to win.
And lastly, because they’re so unpredictable. Crashes, weather, wind, banners, snapping chains – anything can bring you down. Even if you’re tipped as the favourite to win, that doesn’t mean you will. Neither does it mean you will win in the predicted manner. Tom Boonen did a Cancellara and took off 50km from the finish to win the 2012 Paris-Roubaix solo. Cancellara did a Boonen and sprinted for the win at Roubaix this year. Both were expected to win. Both won in unexpected ways.
There’s nothing like the adrenalin rush of a good spring classic. Nothing!
Ant: You make a good case, Kitty! I’ve got my work cut out defending the grand tours, but as much as I love the classics, a well-contested grand tour offers something for everybody, and that’s what captures my imagination.
You never fully know what to expect from one stage to the next. The grand scale gives you a greater opportunity to witness the politics of the peloton, the cat-and-mouse tactics, peaks and troughs in form, the comebacks and fightbacks, strikes and counterstrikes of the main contenders and, of course, the day of the underdog.
The bigger picture of the GC gives a freedom to non-GC riders to attack and, on occasion, pick up once-in-a-lifetime victories that in a one-day race would never come their way, and when a tearful domestique crosses the finish line, arms aloft, face contorted in disbelief, it is one of the most wonderful sights in bike racing.
Where the intensity of a one-day race fosters a more do-or-die swashbuckling attitude, these races can be cruel if your luck deserts you (or if I’ve put you in my Fantasy Classics team), and one slip can often be the end. In a grand tour, this can also be the case, but a tactical slip or an inopportune flat may not ruin the race for a rider – okay, I guess Andy Schleck may not agree! – and often that in itself can ignite a race rather than end it as a contest. A good race grows from a slow-burning contest among the GC contenders to a tense poker game, usually with a few incendiary stages thrown in. You need not look further back than last year’s explosive Vuelta for proof that a good field and a good parcours can defeat even the most ardently studied power-meter.
Each one of the grand tours really is a festival of cycling, celebrating everything that is great in the sport in a big way but, you know, I’m still torn. It’s like the classics are street food, and the grand tours are banquets. Each has their style, their culture and their heritage, and I have room in my life for both in abundance!
Since neither of us has been able to decide on an outright winner, maybe Sheree can give us some guidance.
Sheree: I love all races – classics, grand tours, one-week tours, local races – anything on two wheels. Each month I usually tell Tim I’ll pick up the races or stages that no one else wants to do, which is why I rarely get to review the grand tour mountain stages – but guess who got last year’s decisive stage 17 in the Vuelta? Yes, that’s right, I did because everyone else had written it off as a boring stage and that’s the charm and appeal of cycling. It’s never, ever predictable.
My two favourite races are the Tour of the Basque Country and Clasica San Sebastian, so I’d find it hard to construct a coherent argument to support either one or t’other. I just love them all and am looking forward to the Giro del Trentino and Tour of Turkey, in the same fashion as I’m looking forward to this Sunday’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
Ant: So that’s that, then. When it comes to bike races, we just love ‘em all! Well, I should mention with the possible exception of the Tour of Beijing, and frankly, I’ve now seen so many adverts for the Tour d’Azerbaijan that I’m going off that one too.