The new calendar doesn't suck, and Brabantse Pijl rocks
In the past, the Scheldeprijs ran on Wednesday between Paris-Roubaix and Amstel Gold, sort of a consolation prize for those who were just a bit unlucky on the cobbles and wanted to have a shot at a one-day race. Indeed, a winners list reveal Mark Cavendish, Tom Boonen, Tyler Farrar, and several other winners on its flat parcours run by the Scheldt river. This year it was run between de Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix instead, and its place between Roubaix and Amstel was taken by Branbantse Pijl.
While we were skeptical at first, we enjoyed how the transition now includes a clash-of-warriors instead of a consolation race for cobbled warriors. Run southeast and east of Brussels, Brabantse Pijl features small winding roads near Overijse west of Louvain, home of Université Catholique de Louvain. This university was started due to the Flemish-French language split in the 60s and 70s: the original Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in nearby Leuven became fully Flemish, and thus UCL as started to be its French counterpart.
As we transition from Flemish races (plus Roubaix) to Walloon races (plus Amstel), the fact that Brabantse Pijl crosses both the Flemish and Walloon Brabant was especially satisfying to us history buffs at Classiques Klassieker Classiche.
Philippe Gilbert is found to be mortal after all
We won't repeat what many other commentators (including us) have shared, but we'll say this: Gilbert's wins last year were by strength and cool. His wins this year will have to be by cunning.
We promise to pay more attention to Dutch teams
On more than one occasion, we were caught unawares by the constant attacking and positive racing by Dutch teams Vacansoleil, Rabobank, and Argos Oil-Shimano. While they may not win as much as top tier teams such as OmegaPharma-QuickStep do, we like their approach to racing, even if teams such as Rabobank has the problem of having too many promising riders not quite at their peak. This scatter-shot approach makes for interesting racing, but usually doesn't lead to winning.
This season's Ardennes races will be totally different
And it's not just because Philippe Gilbert is not as strong as he was last year. Movistar brings two stars in Giovanni Visconti and Alejandro Valverde. Their 1-2 punch in Klasika Primavera de Amorebieta a few days ago is proof positive. It's hard to bet against Valverde's miraculous return to top tier racing even after a spell out of competition.
Sammy Sanchez of Euskaltel-Euskadi seems to be back to his winning ways, impressively winning a time trial in Pais Vasco. Quietly but surely, Joaquim Rodriguez and his Katusha team - now under new management - has built quite a set of wins this season. Who knows, GreenEDGE's Simon Gerrans may even steal a show or two.
At the same time, Andy Schleck has abandoned 4 races and has finished only 2, and Damiano Cunego is so far win-less this season. This makes us wish for a new cadre of riders to please show themselves. We were hoping it could be Robert Gesink or Bauke Mollema,even if the Rabobank DS may disagree. After a good showing this past week, we think that next year will see Gianni Meersman of Lotto-Belisol start to win races.
What do you think of the season so far? Share your thoughts below.