It’s a quiet Saturday near the end of April and with the last of the Spring Classics on our doorstep, I’m in a reflective mood.
There’s been really very little to lift the pulse in the past seven days, unless you’re Demi Vollering or Tadej Pogačar – or an optimistic usurper (or interested in tartan). After the frantic run of bulging weekends through March and early April, not to mention the launch of Escape Collective, the end of the Ardennes Classics represent a slowing down, a transition phase as the cycling world’s main focus swings southward, and the peloton’s average height and weight falls on the way to Grand Tour season.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to enjoy about this week of hilly classics – both editions of Amstel Gold in 2019 are good answers to the question, “which race do you wish you could see again for the first time?” – but this period is a time for mindsets to shift, whether you’re a journalist, mega-fan or one of the many stars and specialists who have littered the cobbles all spring.
While some head off to altitude or turn their attention to other disciplines – Lotte Kopecky is currently flying around the track at the Milton Track Nations Cup in Canada – others have taken a well-earned break: an apparently content if unsatisfied Wout van Aert has been bikepacking with some pals, while Jannik Steimle has been shooting hoops in an Oxford Street arcade bar. Cameron Wurf is off to party-island Ibiza – technically for a triathlon, because of course, but there’s always time for some dad-dancing under neon lights – and Yves Lampaert got married. Even Pogačar is expected to take an extended break before he attempts to regain his Tour de France title via the customary demolition of his home country’s tour.
But the Slovenian has one more appointment to keep before heading home to break ground on the extension to his trophy room. The Spring Classics are not quite over, not just yet. One more to go, and it’s a big one: Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
The eve of a Monument has a pleasant stillness to it. These are days for long and head-clearing rides, for planning bucket-list adventures from the comfort of a beer garden, finishing that zeitgeist book you tell everyone you’ve read, or catching up on hot-topic films and TV shows like, of course, the Wolfpack documentary on Prime Video – I’m still in the rose-tinted and hopeful portrayal of the team’s hapless 2022 Spring Classics; I’m sure the series will soon build towards a bombastic finale on Spanish soil.
All this while anticipating the game of chicken that awaits us on Sunday – of Pogačar and Evenepoel, which ‘young phenom’ attacks first, and then who outlasts the other? And can anyone stop SD Worx from following in the footsteps of its team director and adding a third sparkling jewel to Vollering’s crown?
I’ll be honest, the blockbuster double bill that Paris-Roubaix weekend has become, with the Femmes getting a whole day to themselves, is a boon to those of us who re-tell the stories, but there’s a certain something about the familiar back-to-back way of doing things, and, let’s face it, that full weekend festival is not likely to transfer to any other races any time soon.
Tomorrow we will be grateful for the peace of today. The electrifying, even caustic hope that builds out of hour upon hour of pace-setting before the punchy finale, those last 30-40 kilometres before X takes victory (where X = Pogačar/Vollering). The build-up starts now. And then it’s the first of three slightly weird, time-bending, discombobulating interludes between racing ‘campaigns’ before the Giro d’Italia. And then summer.
We’re about to turn the page on an important chapter, and yet there’s so much of the season still to come. It’s a beautiful time of the year.
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