Panache, Kitty and Tim look back on the cobbled classics while covering their backsides in the aftermath of Pinch-gate.
We go from Three Days of De Panne to Two Sundays of The Pain in reviewing a fortnight which has seen Fabian Cancellara back to his best, Peter Sagan making a right ass of himself and our Fantasy Classics team in dominant form.
March sees the European racing season really hit its stride with one big race after another throughout the month. All the big names will come out to play, with two major stage races early in the month followed by the first two of the Monuments, the five most prestigious one-day Classics on the calendar. Nearly a quarter of the 2013 WorldTour events (seven out of 29) take place in this month alone. Here’s a quick preview of March’s key dates.
Let’s kick off with the seven WorldTour races this month. After January’s little amuse-bouche of the Tour Down Under, March brings us the two biggest stage races of the spring, each of which represents a key stepping stone ahead of the Grand Tours. Last year the winners of these two events both finished on the Tour de France podium: Paris-Nice (3rd-10th) was the first of Bradley Wiggins’ four stage race victories, the last being his Tour triumph, while Tirreno-Adriatico (6th-12th) was won by Vincenzo Nibali, who went on to add podium finishes at Milan-San Remo and Liège-Bastogne-Liège en route to a third-place finish in Paris.
Milan-San Remo (17th), of course, is the first of the five Monuments. The so-called ‘Sprinters’ Classic’ will also be targeted by stage racers and puncheurs – Nibali and Fabian Cancellara were third and second respectively last year – with the late climbs of the Cipressa and Poggio offering big attacking opportunities. Peter Sagan has openly stated this race is his main target for the spring, but watch out also for previous winners Simon Gerrans (2012), Matt Goss (2011) and Mark Cavendish (2009), as well as rising sprint star John Degenkolb.
From the Friday after Milan-San Remo to the Sunday of the following week comes the trio of Flandrian Classics which were all won by Tom Boonen in 2012: E3 Harelbeke (22nd), Gent-Wevelgem (24th) and the Ronde van Vlaanderen, or Tour of Flanders (31st). Each of these offers a testing combination of cobbles and punchy climbs which favours those who can best combine power, speed and sheer guts, or those brave enough to seize an unexpected opportunity with both hands.
In between we also have Spain’s second-most important stage race. The Volta a Catalunya (18th-24th) is a daunting, mountainous event which is generally won by a climber.
Outside of the WorldTour events the calendar is brimming with races – the UCI Europe Tour alone has 35 races in March. The key one-day races to look out for are everyone’s favourite nouveau-Classic, Strade Bianche (2nd), with its iconic images of the peloton kicking up clouds of dirt from the white gravel sterrati which give the race its name, and Dwars door Vlaanderen (20th), the warm-up act before the three major Flanders races. There is also the two-day, three-stage Criterium International (23rd-24th) – held on Corsica, where the 2013 Tour de France will kick off – and the Three Days of De Panne (26th-28th). The winners of these four races in 2012 were, respectively, Fabian Cancellara, Niki Terpstra, Cadel Evans and Sylvain Chavanel, which provides an indication of how prestigious each of these events is despite lacking WorldTour or Monument status.
For some reason, March is a relatively barren month in terms of rider birthdays, with several teams requiring no cakes and candles whatsoever until April. Indeed, many of the more notable birthday boys are of the climbing rather than sprinting persuasion. Make of that what you will.
Igor Anton – 30 this month (image courtesy of Euskaltel-Euskadi)
We’ll start with perennial Vuelta and Ardennes Classics contender Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi), who turns 30 tomorrow, the 2nd. He shares his birthday with Sylvester Szmyd (Movistar), one of the most feared climbing domestiques in the business, who will be 35. Add to that Szmyd’s teammate Benat Intxausti, who was tenth in last year’s Vuelta and will be 27 on the 20th, and 2012 Tour of Luxembourg winner Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), who will be celebrating his 28th birthday on the 22nd and you already have the makings of a formidable fantasy cycling mountain train.
Oh, and lest Kitty thinks I’ve forgotten, some fella named Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) will be 32 on the 18th. He’s won a race or two in his time, apparently.
Happy birthday one and all!
Also on the blog
We know how obsessive cyclists can be about their food, so later this month Sheree will be starting up a new weekly recipe column, The Musette, packed full of healthy and delicious dishes.
This adds to our stable of regular features. Every fortnight(-ish) brings our VeloVoices podcast on Mondays and AntBanter on Thursdays, in addition to Kitty’s Tweets of the Week (every Tuesday) and Tim’s Talking Tactics (every Wednesday). Plus, of course, there’s our weekly Friday Feature, where we aim to bring you the best in interviews, photography and other exclusive content. The month kicks off with an interview with photographer Rhode Van Elsen, available later today.
And we’ll continue to keep you up to date with the very best race reviews, analysis and opinion, with coverage of all seven WorldTour races plus selected others, starting with Strade Bianche tomorrow (Saturday).