My first Lombardia HTRWW in four years did not disappoint—strong teamwork all around, fantastic individual performances, plus it’s just so darn pretty up there (though it still might make for better racing when it rains).
Thanks again to Eurosport Cycling for making this happen, and don’t hesitate to click the “no, please help!” link in the upper right of the video player especially if you live in France or outside of Europe as you are likely to have issues with the video if you are in these places.
Tour of Flanders (or Ronde van Vlaanderen, if you prefer) is the biggest bike race in the country where bike racing is biggest. Weather, tactics, crashes, breaks, attacks—all the action and more in this latest #HTRWW, made possible again by my very good friends at Eurosport Cycling.
I’m playing around with a new embed script, so let me know if you experience any issues.
I mean, don’t get me wrong—Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is always pretty upbeat because people are amped—dare I say stoked?—for actual racing to begin.
But this year’s event played out in a particularly satisfying fashion. Relative newcomer Luke Rowe of Sky initiated the winning move still 60k from the line, not by slipping away in crash post-crash confusion while the favorites had a nature break, but with a Hammer of Thor smackdown on the Taaienberg.
That particular climb has long been the personal hunting ground of Tom Boonen, one of the most dominant classics riders of the past decade, and who was nowhere to be seen Saturday as the selection formed. Boonen’s Etixx-QuickStep team (also one of the dominant spring squads since pretty much forever) somehow managed to flounder to an even less-auspicious finish than last year: Tony Martin crashed their chase while sitting third wheel, their efforts never sizably reduced the gap, and the team never got so much as a rider up the road.
Meanwhile, the winning selection was entertaining and easy to love. Lotto-Soudal’s 21-year-old classics prodigy Tiesj Benoot showed great form, while Tinkoff’s Peter Sagan, the world’s most exciting rider when on his game, signaled good things to come with an effortless bridge just after the Taaienberg.
Local minor league squad Verandas Willems had Brecht Dhaene and Kai Reus suffer on from the early move to well into closing stages, and AG2R’s Alexis Gougeard, hardly a classics specialist made a brilliantly measured effort to hang on from the early break as well, and lead out the sprint to preserve his 5th place finish.
Even the final kick, traditional hotbed of dull inevitability, played out well. BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet, known as something of a career underachiever, rode an uncharacteristically canny race, taking his pulls but making no undue effort, before a clever little dive inside Sagan in the final corner gave him a gap that he opened all the way to the line.
Three hours later on the other side of the planet, Boels-Dolemans Evelyn Stevens began an effort that would eventually set a new Women’s Hour Record. You’d think the visual appeal in 140-some-odd rotations of the same concrete track would be limited, but the livestream (unencumbered by antiquated broadcast agreements) peaked at over 40,000 simultaneous viewers, putting quantitative value to earlier complaints when live footage of teammate Lizzie Armitsted’s win at the women’s Omloop was unavailable.
It didn’t hurt that Stevens put on a good show, riding steadily for the first 40 minutes to secure the record before opening up to take a stab at Jeannie Longo’s “superman” (and likely superhuman) mark from the late 90s. In the end, Longo’s record held, aided somewhat by Stevens’ relative inexperience on the track. But when asked by a spectator afterward about the increasing amplitude of her deviations from the fastest line, Stevens responded with engaging bravado “whatever—I was going for it” (or words to that effect).
Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne continued the trend—the race is generally a second-fiddle followup to OHN, with the previous day’s contenders content to let a different group battle it out and attempt to stave off what is more often than not an 60-rider group sprint. But Rowe and Van Avermaet were animators, joining Boonen in serious-looking escape inside the final 40k, which had some potential to keep the Katusha-driven chase at bay.
But the winning move came early—after several kilometers of rotating through for hero pulls, Trek’s Boy van Poppel took a short flier, which his teammate Stuyven countered as soon as he was caught. As Boonen would comment afterward, it was foolishly early but brilliantly delivered; with the rest of the group bickering, the 23-year-old kept came away with the solo win—a nice bit of redemption after crashing himself out of another promising solo move at Omloop the day before, not to mention a classic demonstration of team tactics.
I don’t want to gloss over the bad stuff—two rider/motorbike collisions is too many over a season of racing, let alone a single weekend. But it’s also something that is very much on the UCI’s radar. Normally that’d be sarcasm, but in the past 12 months, the UCI has begun to unravel its reputation for historical ineptitude.
Episode 22: Eneco Tour
One of my favorite races that I never have as much time as I’d like to watch, Eneco Tour combines a variety of Classics-esq courses found around the BeNeLux region for a unique test of riding ability. (@velohuman / VeloHuman.com) discus potential winners, the general coolness of the course, and even work in a quick chat about it with Lotto-Soudal’s Jurgen Roelandts.
Episode 21: Tour de Pologne
Not unlike San Sebastian, the Tour of Poland falls into a weird spot in the calendar. But as Dane Cash (@velohuman / VeloHuman.com) and I explore, it’s a surprisingly unique event, with a habit of turning up new champions, and maybe more in common with the Belgian races in April than the upcoming Spanish one in August.
Otherwise known as the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Maybe next year I will use the actual Dutch. There were a lot of crashes, but between Greg VanAvermaet’s animation and OPQS’s over-extension, it turned into a pretty active little race.
It’s nice to have a rest day so early in this years’ Giro d’Italia, because it makes for less footage and fewer competing stories for the grueling stage race HTRWW. The tenuous creative thread running this latest piece is all over the place—linguistic, geographic, and historical anachronisms abound—but I’m too exhausted to care.
I’d love to go into super-detail arguing about Ferrari’s sprint, and how 1) moves like that happen a lot and 2) when they do go wrong, relegation is invariably the sanction, but there really isn’t much point. Take out two of the most popular riders in the English-speaking world in front of an audience that generally sees bunch sprints in slick 8-second clips (as opposed to watching the whole run-in), and people will be calling for your head on the internet. And it’s just not worth arguing details with the fanatics.