Let battle commence
Words: Joe Hall | Photography: Kirsty Baxter & Offside Sports Photography
Even though the WorldTour has warmed-up Down Under and enjoyed some wacky racing on the Arabian Peninsula, the real season shall commence in seven days at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. And by real we mean the European one-day skirmishes where men and women who flourish in punishing conditions take to the stage. The appeal of the Spring Classics is difficult to define, but it’s arguably the most exciting part of the season. Like boxing matches, in one-day events there’s no place to hide and scant chance to land a knockout punch with weather, tactics and luck conspiring to whip up the most punishing battles. It’s also a time for leg warmers, gloves, caps and rain jackets, so for those concerned with kit, it’s an important time too. As a salute to the drama and intrigue of the monumental races of spring we asked two professionals, Mark Cavendish and Tiffany Cromwell, to explain more.
Milan-San Remo, the longest one-day race in the modern sport, is officially the first Monument of the season. We asked Mark Cavendish, only the second Briton to have won this esteemed race (in 2009), to explain its appeal and what racing it is really like.
For me, Milan–San Remo marks the beginning of the proper full blown cycling season. The nickname ‘La Primavera' is totally fitting. The race is almost an opera to the change in seasons. We start in Milan, where it's always cold, damp and grey, with jackets and leg warmers, like we've been training in through the winter up until now. In keeping with an opera, the action starts fast and aggressive, with some attacks to start the story of the day and form the basis of the race. We then settle down and work our way to the Ligurian coast, trying to hide in the wheels and save as much energy as possible. It's not difficult at this point, but every piece of energy saved in this part will have a positive effect after 290km.
The first climb is Passo del Turchino. It's the highest point of the race. You're not likely to get dropped here, but it certainly indicates if your legs are good on the day. At the top, you enter a tunnel and as you exit, you see the Mediterranean in front of you. The turquoise sea. That tunnel acts as a gateway to spring. The clouds all disappear and the sun shines down. After a descent down to the coast, the race, or the opera, starts to build its gradual crescendo to the finalé. Off come your leg warmers, your jackets, your casquettes. Replaced with clean jerseys, dossards and race faces. Along the Riviera, the pace gradually gets faster and faster, over the three capi, and then the Cipressa and the Poggio. Each climb slightly harder than the last, each with a smaller group, yet each with a bigger fight to arrive first into it. The thing that sets Milan-San Remo apart is the fact that it's an unknown result right up until the final meters. Will the attack from the climbers prove fruitful? Will the daredevil descender stay away? Will the sprinter have enough energy after fighting over the climb? Will his team even be able to pull back those attackers in the last 2km after the Poggio? Even when we race, it's impossible to calculate. Which leaves that element of luck. And that stronger element of will to win.
The Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne weekend is the early season’s cold shower, a rude awakening for many. Historically the Belgians lead the charge with 54 wins at Omloop. Last year, however, Ian ‘Yogi’ Stannard proved he was smarter than your average rider by outfoxing three classics specialists all on the same team to win it for a second year in a row. Another Rapha-clad rider who has won the race (in 2013) is CANYON//SRAM tough nut, Tiffany Cromwell. Here she describes how she’s a beast for Belgium.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is certainly a special race for me since winning it, but that's not the only reason it's one of my favourites. I have loved it ever since I first raced there in 2011. It's not the biggest of the Classics but it is the opener for the Classics season where you get that taste and excitement back. I have always really enjoyed the course too. It's a perfect combination of enough kilometres to warm into the race before it becomes game on with the climbs and then later stages with the flat cobbled sectors, before the run back into the finish. It's just a really nice race in my opinion, the perfect event to kick-start the Spring Classics campaign.
Then there's Flanders. Probably the most prestigious one-day race (aside from Worlds or Olympics) that the women have on our calendar. Waking up on Flanders morning is like waking up on Christmas day as a kid. There's so much excitement but also some nerves, the atmosphere is incredible. The smell of frites and beer and the sound of cowbells ringing is iconic with this race. Then there's the race itself, it's like going into battle with no time to lose focus. You need to be strong, smart but also have some luck to win this race and if you do, you will be remembered. It's just one of those races that really excites me and is the climax of the spring, so you hope to finish it on a high.
There’s not one special ingredient to win a race like this, but more a concoction of elements that all need to come together on the day. First and foremost a strong team is very important, to work together and use your energy efficiently. It's about sharing the workload or saving yourself if you're the protected rider, as every ounce of energy counts. Then it's a combination of strength, skills, focus and a good tactical head. You need to be always thinking ahead, thinking about what section is next. Experience in these races counts for so much, knowing the course is invaluable. One false move onto a cobbled sector or a climb, that could be the difference of winning or losing. As they say, it's not necessarily the strongest who wins, but the smartest.
“It’s about getting the clothing right and staying as warm as possible.”
– Ian Stannard
Knowing how to persist in inclement weather is a really fine attribute to have, but you can’t just train for this, you also need the right equipment.
If you fancy yourself as a bit of a flahute on the pavé or a puncheur of les côtes, try this:
A monumental trip to ride the routes of six Spring Classics in seven days. Tackle the Tour of Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem, Paris-Roubaix, Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège – some of the most historic events in cycling, where the legends of cycling’s true northern hard men are made. Dust, cobbles, punchy climbs, deep forests, wind and rain – these races have everything.
RCC Milan–San Remo Rides 19th & 20th March
The RCC London and RCC Manchester pay homage to the longest one-day race of the World Tour calendar, Milan–San Remo.
RCCAMS Excursion: Tournai 19th-20th March, Tournai
Join the RCC Amsterdam to explore the best of Paris - Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders in one weekend.
RCC at the Amstel Gold Race
16th and 17th April, Grensstraat, Vaals (16th) and Heerlen train station (17th) Join RCC Amsterdam as we indulge in the spirit of the Classics and watch the pros race the biggest one day race in the Netherlands.
Watch all the spring racing live or catch up with the action at Rapha Cycle Clubs worldwide:
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad • Strade Bianche • Ronde van Drenthe (Women's WT) • Milan-San Remo • Trofeo Alfredo Binda (Women's WT) • Dwars door Vlaanderen [start of Flemish cycling week] • E3 Harelbeke • Gent Wevelgem • Ronde van Vlaanderen • Scheldeprijs • Paris Roubaix • Amstel Gold • La Flèche Wallonne • Amstel Gold Race • Liège-Bastogne-Liège