Is It Time To Update The Opening Weekend?

Mar 1 2010

The 2010 season’s opening weekend has come and gone, and its traditionally tough races did not disappoint.

Juan-Antonio Flecha finally got his first classic win at Het Nieuwsblad—though a glance over his shoulder just before his winning salute might have been a coy reference to that race he should have won.

The next day, KBK delivered wonderfully miserable conditions, through which three relative unknowns held off a high-powered chase before Bobbie Traksel of increasingly prominent wild-card squad Vacansoleil took an exhausted sprint for the win.

Sadly though, I think this might be the beginning of the end for Belgium’s opening weekend of racing. Not to take anything away from the combined efforts of Stannard, Flens and Traksel, but a sizable chunk of the big names behind them had already dropped out by the time their decisive group coalesced.

Not only that, but the chase that did form to hunt them down seemed to be missing a gear. Jeremy Hunt’s dramatic implosion—straight out of the chase and into the car—and the sight of the Cervelo TestTeam stuffing his exhausted teammate Hushovd full of energy bars in the finishing circuits suggest that back-to-back days of all-out classic racing might be heading the way of the TdF split-stage.

Spring racing used to be a different animal. Riders came in weak and flabby, and other than a few show-offs, put in the miles for fitness, not glory. But with the season now officially beginning in January, and riders keeping year-round fitness in warmer climates, the racing at Het Niewsblad seems as hotly contested as any other one-day event.

The Belgian calendar has already been altered to give riders more time between events, and to provide promoters with more aggressive, star-studded events. Despite my sentimental attachment to Saturday-Sunday racing, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if KBK were moved back a week in the next few years.

If the empty barriers in Kortrijk yesterday—more a result of DNF’d Belgian riders than the miserable weather—are any indication, it’s the right move for a rapidly modernizing sport.

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3 Responses to “Is It Time To Update The Opening Weekend?”

  1. Pim 2 March 2010 at 1:10 pm #

    I would really invite to come over and ride in these kind of circumstances – they had 8 bft up front about the whole way! The cold, wetness and wind are an unmistakable cocktail for a kind of exhaustion people rarely experience. As you tweeted yourself – it was very, very miserable; regardless of two days of racing.

    It’s what Boonen said: it was kamikaze to ride on if you weren’t playing the cards of the first table.

    I do think it is something remarkable in itself they didn’t give up. Traksel appeared on Holland Sport (a program you have featured here before) yesternight, he still had a hard time bending his fingers…

  2. zaaf 2 March 2010 at 4:55 pm #

    Well, it’s the openings weekend because ‘Het Volk’ is in it. Most years a lot of riders don’t even come to the start of Kuurne if saturday was tough.

    And saturday didn’t disappoint.

  3. cosmo 4 March 2010 at 9:11 am #

    @Pim – My introduction to racing came in early March, in New Hampshire, so I’m no stranger to the rain and cold—though, granted, not for 190k and almost never in wind like that. Anything that rates in Stuart O’Grady’s top three miserable days has to be rugged.

    That said, I think the race probably would have unfolded differently if there hadn’t been a hard event the day before. Despite the high number of riders who’ve won at both KBK and Het Volk/Nieuwsblad, no on has ever pulled it off in the same year.

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