Tag Archives: Ardennes classics

King of Spring 2016

On the right hand side of the site I’ve been running a league table throughout spring to track the most consistent rider of the one-day spring classics or, as I’ve come to call it, the King of Spring. The points format mirrors that of Formula One with 25 points for a win, 18 for second, 15 for third and then 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 and 1 down to tenth.

14 World Tour or 1.HC races across spring starting with the Omloop Het Niewsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne at the end of February, moving to Italy for Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo, then into Flanders for the cobbled classics of Dwars Door Vlaanderen, E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders and Scheldeprijs and rounding out the cobble season with Paris-Roubaix. Then it’s into the hillier spring classics as racing transitions from Flanders to the Ardennes with Brabantse Pijl, Amstel Gold (not technically Ardennes), La Flèche Wallonne and finally Liège–Bastogne–Liège. Four Monuments in total though the points structure remains the same for all races regardless of their UCI ranking.

And now we’re done. So who won? Well I doubt you’ll be surprised but here’s a look at the top ten in the table (including each riders biggest results). 83 riders in total scored points, the same as last year when Alexander Kristoff won and one more than 2014 when Niki Terpstra came out on top.

King of Spring 2016, final standings:

1. Peter Sagan – 104 (1st Gent; 1st Flanders; 2nd Omloop; 3nd E3)
2. Fabian Cancellara – 67 (1st Strade; 2nd Flanders)
3. Enrico Gasparotto – 53 (1st Amstel; 2nd Brabantse Pijl)
4. Sep Vanmarcke – 49 (2nd Gent; 3rd Flanders; 4th Roubaix)
5. Greg Van Avermaet – 45 (1st Omloop)
6. Bryan Coquard – 42 (2nd Dwars Door)
7. Alexander Kristoff – 38 (2nd Kuurne; 4th Flanders)
8. Wout Poels – 37 (1st Liège; 4th Flèche)
9. Jasper Stuyven – 37 (1st Kuurne; 5th E3)
10. Arnaud Demare – 35 (1st San Remo; 5th Gent)

Note that the tiebreaker was the best results in Monuments. For that reason Poels finished 8th ahead of Stuyven because he won Liège, and Demare made the top ten on the back of his Milan-San Remo win despite tying Edward Theuns and Petr Vakoc on 35 points. Riders that failed to crack the top ten but who still won a race included Jens Debusschere (Dawars Door), Alejandro Valverde (Flèche), Michal Kwiatkowski (E3), Marcel Kittel (Scheldeprijs), and last but certainly not least, Mat Hayman (Paris-Roubaix).

So hands up who guessed Peter Sagan might have finished first? He won it with ease on 104 points. 3 points better off than Alexander Kristoff last year. It’s scary to think how far ahead he might have been had he decided to give the Ardennes races a crack. I could be wrong but Sunday’s Liège–Bastogne–Liège looked made for him.


Wout Poels first Monument for Sky in the snow at Liège

Who would have thought that the first man to bring Sky their long awaited Monument victory would be Wout Poels at Liège-Bastogne-Liège? That isn’t meant to be a slight on Poels, a fine rider who really shone bright for Chris Froome on Alpe d’Huez last year and who has had a solid start to this season, including a 4th place finish at Flèche Wallonne just a few days ago. So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, but the money being thrown about on who might do it first must surely have been going on someone like Michal Kwiatkowski. In many ways he was brought in to break the duck.

Still, Kwiatkowski ended up shining brighter on the cobbled classics than the hillier ones in which many felt suited him best and it was Poels who emerged from the sleet and snow and rain on a friged cold day in the Ardennes to out manoeuver his three late breakaway companions to win it on the line.

It was far from an epic race, but held in epic conditions. Not quite Hinault in ’80 but snowing nonetheless. The kind we always long for in the spring Monuments and which the riders dread. The challenge for them increases imeasurably as they fight to keep warm, to stay upright and to stop their legs from freezing up when they look to them to respond. The challenge for those of us watching on television increase a little as we fight to see which rider is which as rain capes cover numbers.

It soon became clear, rain cape or otherwise, that it wasn’t Chris Froome surging clear of the ever reducing pack to bridge across to Michael Albasini on the new final climb of Rue Naniot, a straight up 600m cobbled climb with an average gradient of 11%, but rather it was Poels. Joining Albasini, Rui Costa and Samuel Sanchez the race finally had a move that could stick, albeit cresting the climb only a handful of seconds to the good, but close enough to the finish to drive on. Costa seemed the most savvy to pull off the win, with his World Championship victory still in our minds, and yet it was Poels who came out of that infamous final corner and began his sprint immediately, catching the other three out and creating the gap that Albasini couldn’t close before the line and denying Orica GreenEdge a Paris-Roubaix / Liège-Bastogne-Liège double.

At last the dam has broken; the floodgates are open for Sky…or at least that’s what they will now hope. We’ll have to wait until October to find out if they can build on this Monument glory. For now though they’ll feel a sense of satisfaction, a boost of confidence for the whole team as the spring classics season comes to an end and racing turns to the summer and the Grand Tours with the Giro only a handful of days away.

Liège-Bastogne-Liège result:

1. Wout Poels (Sky)

2. Michael Albasini (Orica GreenEdge)

3. Rui Costa (Lampre)

4. Samuel Sanchez (BMC)

5. Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha)

6. Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin)

16. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)

in 6h 24′ 29″

@ 4″

@ 9″

@ 11″

@ 12″

Yes, there is Alejandro Valverde, down in the lowly depths of 16th. A position of pride for most entrants, but way below his usual standards in the Ardennes. Indeed the veteran Spaniard won the La Flèche Wallonne for the 4th time (a record, and they should consider naming the race after him now!) earlier in the week and seemed odds on favourite to win his 4th Liège-Bastogne-Liège but will have to settle the one victory this time. Still a look at Valverde’s results in the Ardennes classics (including Amstel Gold followed by Flèche then Liège) since 2013 shows you why he’ll feel he came up a little short with 16th on Sunday:

2nd, 7th, 3rd; 4th, 1st, 2nd; 2nd, 1st, 1st; DNS, 1st, 16th.

La Flèche Wallonne result:

1. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)

2. Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx – Quick Step)

3. Dan Martin (Etixx – Quick Step)

4. Wout Poels (Sky)

in 4h 43′ 57″

both s.t.

@ 4″

In other racing news the six stage Tour of Croatia and the four stage Giro del Trentino were taking place this past week. At the former it was Matija Kvasina who won overall but bigger story was Mark Cavendish winning a stage. At the later it was Mikel Landa who looked in very impressive form ahead of the Giro with the overall win to go with a stage win and a 3rd and 6th in the two other road stages.

Rider of the week:

It seems of late I’ve been getting this easy by just going with the guy who won the weeks biggest named race, but come on…this was a Monument and Wout Poels won Sky’s first ever. That has to be worthy of the weekly prize.

Tro Bro Léon to the Ardennes classics

The Tro Bro Léon really should be a bigger race than it is, it has everything the road cycling fan loves about a classics race — especially following hot on the heels of Paris-Rouabix — and yet it remains on the fringes of fame, out there on the Brittany coast, lashing around in the wind, the farm tracks and cobbled roads that many don’t seem to notice. And maybe in some way that’s for the best; it’s kind of cool that this funky race flies a little under the radar.

That said I am sure the organisors would love for its appeal to grow and there is no doubt in recent years it has. It was formed in 1984 but only last year did I really learn what it was. Being held the weekend after Paris-Roubaix kind of hurts its hopes for larger appeal; the classics men have had a long spring and Rouabaix kind of wraps all that up. If Tro Bro Léon were held a few weeks before, it would surely attract a more elite field of names.

If you didn’t know by now, Tro Bro Léon is a race in the Paris-Roubaix mold but held out in Brittany. The Hell of the West it is known to some or Le Petit Paris-Roubaix. It includes 24 sectors of drit, cobblestones and gravel roads while also hugging the wind swept coast roads of Brittany. There is two prizes up for grabs: The winner of the race gets a trophy, the top Breton finisher gets a live piglet!

Because it hasn’t yet been gripped in the way some other classic races have, it kind of highlights the theory that if Paris-Roubaix had been invented in 2006 rather than 1896 it would never have gotten the go ahead. No rider would sign up for such a brutal course going along broken up cobbled tracks through the middle of the northern French countryside.

This years winner was Martin Mortensen of One Pro Cycling ahead of British team-mate Peter Williams, though it was Laurent Pichon as the first Breton (4th overall) who got the Piglet. A fine rider in his own right but I couldn’t help but think it would be cool to have seen Cancellara, Sagan, Vanmarcke or Hayman at it. How would they have delt with those conditions? Like Roubaix, but still different. Perhaps in its own right even more challenging but without history on its side.

But as I said, its place in the calendar comes on a weekend when the cycling world has begun to turn its attention to the hillier classics of spring. A move away from Flanders and towards the Ardennes; out with the strong men and in with the climbing sort. A shorter season to be sure with just the four races if you include last Wednesday’s Brabantse Pijl (won by Petr Vakoc in an exciting finish), though four races seems about enough. A criticism of these hilly classics tends to be that with a couple of major climbs right near the end, or in the case of La Flèche Wallonne right at the end, that all the action waits until these moments. Coming off the back of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in which we seen attacking, movement and drama from a long way out, fans expectations are at a season long high for constant action. But that’s just the style of these races and they make up for their quantity by the fact that three of the four are World Tour races and all come within 11 days.

The first World Tour of the three was Amstel Gold — though not in the Ardennes geographically — and it took place the same day as Tro Bro Léon (another problem for Tro Bro’s exposure) and was won by the in form Enrico Gasparotto to follow up on a second place finish earlier in the week at Brabantse Pijl. In recent years they have moved the finish away from the final climb to try and spice up the run in, though it was still the final climb of the Cauberg that major moves were made. Tim Wellens made a longer bid for glory but was swept up on that climb and settled for a 10th place finish.

Next up is Flèche Wallonne and the big one: Liège-Bastogne-Liège, though we now have a better idea as to who is in form. Wellens looks good, Gasparotto looks excellent, and Bryan Coquard (twice 4th) and Michael Matthews (twice 5th) look strong. But it will still be Alejandro Valverde who comes in as the mighty favourite. The Spaniard skipped the first two races to instead race in his home country at the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon in which he won two stages and took the general classification with ease. He is peaking at just the right time again. He must be the hot favourite to do the Flèche/Liège double once more.

Rider of the week:

As well as Valverde done with his two stage wins and GC in Spain, it was Enrico Gasparotto finishing second in Brabantse Pijl and winning Amstel Gold, were all the attention was, that takes the prize this week.