Friday Group Ride #60

I don’t know about you, but I was excited for the Omloop/K-B-K weekend. Despite all the races that come before those two, in my mind the season really begins on those crappy weathered, Belgian roads. These are minor races, diminished further by the proliferation of warm-weather rides that take place in January and February. They’re not classics, by any stretch, but to me, they are, in fact, classic.

One new race, and the one we’re talking about today, that I find fully worthy of spring classics season is the Montepaschi  – Strade Bianchi, or L’Eroica, a rambling race over technical terrain that includes many kilometers over the famed white gravel roads of Tuscany. This is a race that serves up the same kind of riders-spattered-with-mud photographs that we all love from the actual spring classics.

Also interestingly, MSB is a race that almost immediately captured the imaginations of the pro riders themselves. Inaugurated in 2007, MSB draws a very impressive field and boasts some big name former winners, including Fabian Cancellara (2008).

Who will win? Tell us. Win RKP stickers.

Of course, Strade Bianchi is a Saturday race. On Sunday, Paris-Nice rolls out of Houdan, south of Paris for those of us who still like stage races. The Race to the Sun is usually a big event on the calendar, that intersection sort of race where both grand tour riders and strong one day racers mix it up.

Defending champion Alberto Contador has chosen to ride elsewhere, so look for riders like Peter Sagan, looking to cement his status as a big, young star, Fränk Schleck, Luis Leon-Sanchez and Heinrich Haussler to ride strong, but really there a dozen or more potential winners this year. With a longer time trial and some more difficult climbing, the odds are probably more with an experienced stage racer than someone who is simply strong over this sort of terrain.

That’ll make it much harder to predict, but go ahead and try.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. grolby

    Haussler is a good pick. While we’re on Garmin, this is one of Hesjedal’s favorite races. He can be counted on to do well again, but I’m hesitant to pick him as the winner. Still, he’s in with a decent shot. One of the neat things about L’ Eroica is that there’s been a variety of winners in the admittedly short run of this race.

    As for its popularity, I think it’s because it truly does occupy a unique yet appropriate niche in the Spring Classics season. It has the technical element that makes the cobbled classics so intriguing, with terrain that opens it up to a range of potential victors.

  2. Robot

    I like Hesjedal, but I read that he’s planning to race the Strade Bianchi and then fly directly to Paris-Nice. How you gonna win races like that?

  3. Pascal

    This is one of my favorite races of the year. Probably because it features similar terrain to what our crew here in Ottawa like to ride. It really gets me excited about the season while I sit and wait for the snow to melt (a bit more). It’s sort of a hardman race, but not in the same sense as Roubaix or MSR. You need to be tough, but you also need fairly mad skills. The dirt can really catch you off guard. We all remember Stage 7 of last year’s Giro: the former MTB world champ won. nuff said

    I would love to see (fellow Canadian) Ryder Hesjedal take it, but he will come in second or third to Fabian Cancellara.

  4. Marco Placero

    Greipel if groupo compatto finale.
    Got to ride the steratti bianchi. Hopefully seeing Andrea e Gloria September, gonna try getting the group over to Castelnuovo Berardegna and Montalcino.

  5. Phil

    I’m going to go with Philippe Gilbert. I would love to see Stuart O’Grady win, but he’s firmly in the super domestique role these days for Spartacus.

  6. michaelMC is l

    Great finish! Fantastic to see Gilbert take the win, and a great season debut by Hesjedal. First race of the year and 12th place in with the lead group? Brilliant stuff.

    It is also very nice to note the renaissance of Cunego and Ballan. Seeing Hincapie in what was also his first race up in the lead group at the finish also bodes well for his Classics fitness. BMC is looking ominous come Flanders.

  7. grolby

    Good call, Phil! I should have gone with that nagging little voice in my head that said to make that pick. Oh well!

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