And so end the cobbled classics for another year. Some commentators may have jumped the gun a little bit—especially with a Belgian sweep at Brabantse Pijl yesterday—but the sentiment remains valid: this was a pretty crummy year for the traditional powers
Even viewing things along team lines, the season was unusual. Continental squads Topsport Vlaanderen and Vacansoleil seemed as prominent as anyone else, and who would have guessed back in February that Quick.Step’s biggest win this spring would come from an Italian in Spain?
It’s tempting to blame the dearth of wins on a certain maniacal Swiss—who, by the way, might not be done yet— but the most striking difference for me was the relative lack of authority exerted by Quick.Step. While Tom Boonen’s Belgian tri-color was a race-making presence in nearly every event he stared, single-handedly biking yourself to victory remains prohibitively difficult.
Boonen did what he could, placing attacks that reduced races to a handful of riders when the numbers were not in his favor. But riding in the break is a heck of a lot easier when you’ve spent the previous 100km drafting Wouter Weylandt, and whole lot less stressful when you’ve got a fistful of riders keeping an eye on things in the chase.
That said, I don’t think the racing suffered. While watching Cancellara blow the wheels off everyone for three consecutive events—except when he missed the start—might have gotten a little old, his squad, along with Sky, Cervelo, and occasionally Omega Pharma-Lotto, filled the power vacuum amply. If anything took the edge off racing, it was the revamped schedule—but more on that later.
Outside the rainy, muddy confines of Belgium, the rest of the cycling world has continued to spin merrily along. HTC-Columbia manager Bob Stapleton stepped in to soothe the puerile dispute between his two sprinters, initiating a period of calm that lasted precisely three days before Cav decided to kick over the apple cart again. As an added bonus, The Guardian managed to mung up the drama on the 14th Stage of last year’s Tour, referring to Cav’s pre-relegation 13th place finish as a “win”.
In Spain, Chris Horner rode himself into a Txapela over some fairly notable company, making himself an outside contender for the Ardennes Classics. Given the crummy record of the Johan Bruyneel Experience in one-day races, I don’t expect too much, but then again, Horner has previously displayed an ability to ride essentially unsupported in big events.