Tag Archives: Spring Classics 2016

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.

Hell of a race at the Hell of the North

What a race it was. And we shouldn’t be surprised really. Not when the name is Paris-Roubaix and 200 bicycles are racing across a 257.5km course in Northern France of which 52.8km feature 27 sectors of tight cobbled and dirt covered farm roads. If they tried to invent this race in 2006 rather than 1896, nobody would go for it. And yet, the drama was unending. Few races are carried live on television from gun to flag for a reason, even the big mountain stages of the Tour de France see the peloton amble over the first two or three cols before starting to make moves with the action unfolding on the final climb. But not Paris-Roubaix; not yesterday.

They say the ones in which the rain falls and the wind blows and the riders come home caked in mud are the best. That is true as a spectacle, but yesterday proved a dry race in the dust can be just as thrilling. We had the sight of 257.5km of attacks, crashes, surges, splits in the field, panic, pursuits, selections, more attacking and finally a sprint for glory in the Roubaix velodrome.

By the time the race reached the Forest of Aranberg with 95.5km still remaining, we had seen numerous failed attacks, one that had thus far succeeded and a crucial crash that split the chasing bunch in two creating three distinct groups on the road. And most crucial of all, Peter Sagan and Fabian Cancellara, two pre-race favourites set to duke this one out after last weeks epic battle at the Tour of Flanders, were in the third group on the road and in real trouble. Especially considering the groups in front contained other contenders, one of whom was the great Tom Boonen. The upshot was, with so long still to race, a mighty pursuit across Northern France

The key to winning at Roubaix, beyond all such attributes of power, experience, control, nerve, timing, bike handling and brute strength — all of which you must contain in abundance — is little bits of luck to avoid the unexpected crashes or mechanical mishaps. Sagan and Cancellara fell foul to the former, both from the crash that split the field early, and for Cancellara in a crash of his own, just as the gap to those in front was beginning to come down, that left him out of contention. That Peter Sagan didn’t come down as well was a major testament to his attribute of bike handling, something we’re so familiar with. But isolated so far from the finish and with the pressure only ramping up as the two groups ahead merged, he would find the gaps too large to close.

So take Mat Hayman then and all those attributes to ride well here that he has built up over fifteen previous attempts, and then consider the element of luck. People think you need it to win here but the reality is that to win Paris-Roubaix you don’t ride your luck, you make it. Hayman got in the early break that succeeded in getting clear and as such he avoided the chaos behind him. At one stage with 80km still on the dial he surged clear of his own breakaway companions to lead alone. It might have seemed like a suicide bid, but perhaps it was his own way of staying trouble free.

He was eventually reeled in by that large group behind which contained four riders from Team Sky: Ian Stannard, Luke Rowe, Gianni Moscon and Salvatore Puccio, but just when it looked like the British team, still in search of a first Monument win, were taking control, two of their riders (Rowe and Moscon) came down on one corner, and Puccio on the next. Rowe managed to regain contact briefly but it left only Stannard as their best hope.

Stannard took that chance on a later sector, taking the setup by Rowe to surge hard and expose the tired legs in the group, reducing it quickly down to less than ten. Then a move by the ever present Sep Vanmarcke reduced it to just four chasers. With Vanmarcke eventually reeled in, we had the Belgian, Stannard, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Hayman, and the mighty Tom Boonen left from 199 starters with hopes of glory.

And there was no doubt that the high tempo of racing from the very start, the early attacks, the hard driving on the cobbles, the effort to avoid the crashing, to close the gaps and to ensure they were part of those left standing, had left us with five extremely tired men.

Paris-Roubaix however brings out the best in its contenders and rather than pace one another along into the velodrome, the five took turns attacking one another in exhaustion. Would the power of Stannard prevail, the know-how of Boonen, the cunning of Vanmarcke, the talent of Boasson Hagen, or the grit of Hayman? Each took several turns, some in desperate hope that their own exhaustion wouldn’t quite be as bad as the rest, but none had the legs to break the others and they came into the Velodrome together with a crowd roaring for Boonen to make it a record breaking five wins here.

But it was Hayman…he who was on the front, on his own, 80km earlier, setting his own tempo and picking his own line while the rest panicked to bring back splits in the field and close gaps to the wheel in front. It perhaps allowed his legs that little extra something when it mattered in the final 20km of attacks and when it really mattered in the final 200 metres when he opened his sprint and Boonene failed to come past him.

Few riders have deserved such a win more than Mat Hayman. Not because it was his sixteenth attempt or because he’s one of the old veterans of the peloton who has worked tirelessly for others down the years, or anything sentimental like that, but because he rode the race perfectly: Leading from the front throughout to avoid trouble, positioning himself to react to the right moves, and displaying all those attributes of power, experience, control, nerve, timing, handling and brute strength in abundance. And when you have all that you reduce the element of luck enough that the dream of winning a race like Paris-Roubaix becomes a reality for a 38 year old Australian; the second oldest in race history.

Paris-Roubaix result:

1. Mathew Hayman (Orica-GreenEdge)

2. Tom Boonen (Etixx – Quick Step)

3. Ian Stannard (Sky)

4. Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNI-Jumbo)

5. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data)

6. Henrich Haussler (IAM)

7. Marcel Sieberg (Lotto Soudal)

8. Aleksejs Saramontis (IAM)

9. Imanol Erviti (Movistar)

10. Adrien Petit (Direct Energie)

11. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff)

in 5h 51′ 53″

all s.t.

@ 3″

@ 1′ 00″

all s.t.

@ 1′ 07″

@ 2′ 20″


Rider of the week:

Mat Hayman. Why? Well, if you’re asking that then you need to go watch Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix. In the break for most of the day he survived all the splits, crashes and attacks to go ahead-to-head with Tom Boonen and other cobbled specialists for the win; and he won.
(Honourable mention to Alberto Contador who won the time-trial and GC at Pais Vasco).

The Cobbled classics season ends but the Ardennes is still to come

Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix brought with it the end to the cobbled classic season, but what a run of races it was. We probably say that every year but I think I watched more intently this year than in any previous season and no time felt wasted. Eight major races in total and I watched them all, and throughout I kept a little league table on the sidebar of this site that I’ve now updated and completed. More on that below.

From the the Omloop Het Niewsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne in late February, followed by a slight break in proceedings as riders and teams accessed their form ahead of the quick succession of Flandrian races in late March and early April up to Flanders and Scheldeprijs, before Paris-Roubaix in early April brought us to the climax. There was high drama throughout spring that built to a crescendo for the Monuments of Flanders and Roubaix. New hero’s were made, new Monument men crowned and some old hero’s said goodbye. And, sadly, there was tragedy with the death of young Belgian rider Antoine Demoitié at Gent-Wevelgem.

Demoitié’s death naturally left a shadow over further racing, not to mention the awful terrorist attacks on Belgian soil in the days leading into Flanders, but the riders done their best to keep spirits up and put on a show for the fans throughout, and nobody can say they failed us.

We had the good early form of Greg Van Avermaet (winning at Omloop), followed by an injury at Flanders; the continued rise of young Belgian hopeful Tiesj Benoot before he himself crashed out of the Flandrian epic; the attempt by Fabian Cancellara to go out in style with one last big win but which fell short, though through no shortage of panache; wins for two other new Belgian hopefuls: Jesper Stuyven (Kuurne) and Jens Debusschere (Dwars Door); Michal Kwiatkowski out dueling Peter Sagan in a two-up sprint (E3); Sagan bouncing back (Gent-Wevelgem) to round into perfrect form for his first Monument win in brilliant style (Ronde Van Vlaanderen); Tom Boonen coming oh-so-close to making it five Paris-Rouabix wins only to be beaten on the line by the popular veteran Mat Hayman.

There was so much to soak up and digest, so much to talk about afterwords and so much to miss now that those races are over. But, unless you are from Flanders and thus lamenting the passing of this calendar, you’ve probably already looked ahead and quickly remembered that the Wallonia classics are right upon us. The beauty in the diversity of the cycling calendar: Something for everyone across a long season, and if you’re like me, enjoying each season within the season. From those early season stage races to these brilliant cobbled classics to the Ardennes classics to come, continued stage racing and into the summer with the Grand Tours.

So while it briefly felt like the end of Christmas when Mat Hayman took victory in the Roubaix Velodrome, the reality is that in the cycling season the day after boxing day is Christmas again. But before moving onto what’s to come in these spring classics, a look at how the top 10 in that Cobbled Classics league table played out. Remember, it was the eight races in which point distribution was equal: 25 points for the win, 18 for 2nd, 15 for 3rd and working down to 1 point for 10th…following the Formula One point format essentially. No bias on Monument races versus regular World Tour race versus 1.HC race; just a table to see who the most consistent cobbled performer was in 2016. I bet you’ve a fair idea who it was…

Final Cobbled Classic league table after 7 races:

1. Peter Sagan, 92 pts (2x 1st, 2x 2nd, 1x 7th)

2. Sep Vanmarcke, 49 pts (1x 2nd, 1x 3rd, 1x 4th, 1x 8th)

3. Fabian Cancellara, 42 pts (2x 4th, 1x 2nd)

4. Jasper Stuyven, 37 pts (1x 1st, 1x 5th, 1x 9th)

5. Edward Theuns, 25 pts (1x 3rd, 1x 4th, 2x 8th)

6. Jens Debusschere, 33 pts (1x 1st, 1x 6th)

T7. Alexander Kristoff, 30 pts (1x 2nd, 1x 4th)

T7. Ian Stannard, 30 pts (2x 3rd)

9. Greg Van Avermaet, 27 pts (1x 1st, 1x 8th)

10. Michal Kwiatkowski, 25 pts (1x 1st)

It’s been fun following this so I figure I might as well keep it going in a separate table tracking the spring classics as a whole. I’ll add in the already completed Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo and then continue with the four final hilly classics: Brabantse Pijl, Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège–Bastogne–Liège.

Sagan, Vanmarcke, Cancellara et al. won’t be racing those and new names will arrive in to take the spotlight. Can any of them win enough to make an impact on the standings? If Alejandro Valverde has the kind of run in the Ardennes that he did last year then he might feature though I think the only one that might threaten Sagan on the top of the standings is Kwiatkowski (already on 25 points) if he shines big time in what’s to come.

And we don’t have to wait long to start finding out. Brabantse Pijl is Thursday.

Below is the standings with Strande and San Remo added:

1. Peter Sagan, 104 pts
2. Fabian Cancellara, 67 pts
3. Sep Vanmarcke, 49 pts
4. Greg Van Avermaet, 45 pts
5. Alexander Kristoff, 38 pts
6. Jasper Stuyven, 37 pts
7. Edward Theuns, 35 pts
8. Arnaud Demare, 35 pts
9. Jens Debusschere, 33 pts
10. Ian Stannard, 30 pts

Monument Man, Peter Sagan

It’s always right after those moments in which we foolishly begin to question Peter Sagan, like after Michal Kwiatkowski beat him last week at the E3 Harelbeke, and in the lead up to last years World Championships when he had a barron spell of multiple second place finishes, that the Slovakian superstar steps up and reminds us just how brilliant he is.

Yesterday was one of those days. It was a beautiful, powerful, intelligent solo victory. Dawning his rainbow stripes he rode the strongest riders on the planet off his wheel to become the King of Flanders and to become a Monument Man at last.

And it came about after yet another move that seen himself and Kwiatkowski move clear of a narrowing field of strong men and bridge across to what was left of the days early break; a move that now also contained Sep Vanmarcke who himself had earlier bridged. Vanmarke was by now the major Belgian hope after a disasterous day that seen both Greg Van Avermaet and Tiesj Benoot crash out.

The Sagan-Kwiatkowski move set the likes of Fabian Cancellara into a panic, and had the likes of myself in a state of deja-vu and wondering whether Kwiatkowski would attack on the Kwaremont or Paterberg or indeed go for another sprint against Sagan just like at E3?

Yet when it came to the nitty-gritty of a Monument classic, with well over 220km in the legs, it was Sagan who forged ahead. After the race the 26 year old, previously without a Monument victory to his name and with questions starting to linger, said that “Nobody wants to work with me, so it’s always better to drop everybody”.

The stragegy of a genius.

Too often Sagan has been criticised for being the strongest rider but too weak with his tactics, but as time has passed he’s begun to figure it out and now with a World Championship and a Monument to his name, won with the head as well as the legs, you fear for the rest.

When he seen Kwiatkowski make that move 30km from the finish he wisely latched on. Sky had riders in abundance in what was left of the main field and so by going on this move he knew they wouldn’t aid in his chase. Cancellara on the other hand was running out of team-mates and after he burned that last match he was on his own to try and bridge across. By then the race was on the Kwaremont and rather than Kwiatkowski dictate terms, it was Sagan who rode away. There was no defined attack as such, but rather the Tinkoff rider pressed on the pedals that little bit harder and the gap began to open. The only man who could follow was Vanmarcke, but he himself was tiring from his earlier effort and when they reached the Paterberg it was the same kind of effort that put the visably struggling Belgian a length behind…then two lenghts…then five…and then he was gone.

By now Cancellara himself was putting in a blistering ride, desperately trying to salvage his race. He blitzed up the Paterberg passing them all to wind up second man on the road in persuit of Sagan. The gap went out to 20secs and hovered there for some 10km. The race was on a knife edge and it was going to break one way or the other. Cancellara is the better man against the clock, but this time-trial was taking place with 250km in the legs and although the time came down briefly, the elastic soon snapped and the time began to crawl up again; the baton was being passed before our eyes.

Sagan’s move on the Paterberg had shades of Cancellara doing the same to Sagan himself on the same climb back in 2013. This time it was Sagan putting on the hurt and it was a symbolic moment in which you could sense the shift in power, though Cancellara was going out in style.

All that was left was for Sagan to indulge us all with his now customary post-finish line one-handed wheelie, looking as though he could do another 100km if required. The cycling version of the motor racing driver who celebrates his victory by doing burnouts and donuts on the track for the fans. Sagan: Always the entertainer, both in his racing and his style.

Only five riders have won the Tour of Flanders while wearing the rainbow jersey: Frenchman Louison Bobet (1955), Belgians Rik Van Looy (1962), Eddy Merckx (1975) and Tom Boonen (2006), and now Peter Sagan in 2016. He’s also just the fifth man, and first non-Belgian, to do the Gent-Wevelgem – Tour of Flanders double in the same year, joining Van Looy (1962), Walter Godefroot (1968), Eric Vanderaerden (1985) and Tom Boonen (2012). Sagan may well be a Slovak, but there must be a little Flemish in him somewhere, and the locals have certainly adopted him as one of their own. The Belgian press this morning were talking more about Sagan’s brilliance than their own nations failure to shine on their biggest stage in what has now become a four year drought. The way Sagan has now found his Monument feet, that drought may not end so easily.

And speaking of 2013 and Cancellara doing to Sagan what Sagan this year did to the rest…Sagan will now look to further emulate Cancellara from that season by going on to do the cobbled double and add the Paris-Roubaix crown to his victory in De Ronde. Cancellara of course will look to Roubaix to bite back with one last hurrah and given how he tried until the end on Sunday, you just know Sagan will have work very hard with his legs and his head once again to shift the old legend.

Tour of Flanders result:

1. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff)

2. Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory)

3. Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo

4. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha)

5. Luke Rowe (Sky)

6. Dylan van Baarle (Cannondale)

7. Imanol Erviti (Movistar)

8. Zdenek Stybar (Etixx – Quick Step)

9. Dimitri Claeys (Wanty – Groupe Gobert)

10. Niki Terpstra (Etixx – Quick Step)

11. Lars Boom (Astana)
12. Geraint Thomas (Sky)
13. Stijn Vandenbergh (Etixx – Quick Step)
14. Alexey Lutsenko (Astana)
15. Tom Boonen (Etixx – Quick Step)

in 6h 10′ 42″

@ 25″

@ 27″

@ 48″

all s.t.
@ 55″
@ 59″
@ 1′ 01″

Rider of the week:

Easy pick this time. Sure there was the Three Days of De Panne, but the Tour of Flanders is the Super Bowl of Belgian cycling and Peter Sagan won it in true legendary style.

Rider of the month (March):

Peter Sagan. Yes Arnaud Demare won the months monument at Milan-San Remo as well as a stage of Paris-Nice, and Michael Matthews won two stages of Paris-Nice, and Nacer Bouhanni won a stage of Paris-Nice and two at the Volta a Catalunya, and Fabian Cancellara won Strade Bianche and a stage of Tirreno-Adriatico, but Sagan superb throughout the month. He finished in the top 10 of every race he competed in except for Milan-San Remo and that was hindered only because a crash got in his way with 300m to go. He was second overall at Tirreno with 2nd, 4th, 7th, 2nd and 10th place finished in each of its five road stages; he was 4th at Strade Bianche, 2nd at E3 and then he won Gent-Wevelgem. It all set up the big win we just seen to start April.

Ronde Van Vlaanderen preview

This weekend is to the Belgian people what Super Bowl Sunday is to the Americans or what FA Cup Final day to the English. Their entire cycling year revolves around the Tour of Flanders and just by winning it you can write your name into legend, regardless of what you do the rest of the season. And especially if you’re a Belgian because winning this race is akin to winning the Tour de France in the eyes of the Flandrians.

It’s an epic race that really needs no introduction here. We’ve all heard the stories. Merckx riding solo for 73km to win by more than five and a half minutes in ’69; Vanderaerden in that storm of ’85 in which only 24 riders finished; or Jesper Sibby falling on the famous Koppenberg and being run over by an officials car in ’87, the same year Claude Criquielion became the only French-speaking Belgian to win the Ronde. Indeed, following that Skibby incident, the Koppenberg was kept off the race route for 15 years, but thankfully is a part of the spectacle once more.

If you’re reading this you’ve probably been following the build up over the past few days, or indeed watching the recent races that by comparison can only be described as warm up events on many of the same roads. You’re probably also wishing right about now that you weren’t reading this, but rather in Belgium, in a pub or cafe perhaps, soaking up the atmosphere and getting ready to go stand at the side of the road and watch the race on one of its famous cobbled climbs.

So, who is going to win? Will it be a Belgian? Will Sagan finally break his Monument duct? Will Cancellara or Boonen go out in style with a 4th win for most ever? The sentimental pick must surely be Boonen and I’d be alright with that, though I also would like to see Sagan finally do it, or even see Michal Kwiatkowski build on last weeks win in an attempt to then go to the Ardennes classics and become the first man to do the Flanders-Liège same-year double since Eddy Merckx in 1975 (and 1969). And he stands a chance for five of the last ten Tour of Flanders winners have won the E3 Harelbeke.

But there are no certainties in bike racing and even fewer in the Tour of Flanders. The only guarantee is that it will make for thrilling viewing so make sure you find a way to tune in, if you’re not one of the lucky ones, like my brother, to be on the side of Muur cheering the race past, and enjoy.