Photo from Ticino Turismo on Flickr.
March 16th 2013.
This Sunday sees the start of this years classics season at Milan-San-Remo. All eyes will be on classics king Fabian Cancellara as he returns from last years injury blighted campaign. It should be a great spring as Cancellara resumes his rivalry with last years hero and 7 times monument winner, Tom Boonen. With the peloton showing great strength in depth this year and Cancellara’s perceived lack of tactics Fabian may not get things all his own way. So who are the established stars that will be looking for classics success and who are the rising stars who are looking to take over Fabian Cancellara’s mantle.
Two riders who may be facing their last chance for monument success are 35 year olds Juan Antonio Flecha and Thor Hushovd. Flecha has an incredible record at Paris-Roubaix, a 9th and 6th place as well as two 4ths two 3rds and a 2nd and he also finished 3rd at Flanders should benefit from his move away from Sky, perhaps getting more protection at Vacansoliel. Hushovd who has also come close at Paris-Roubaix and has two 3rd place finishes at Milan-San Remo has been looking strong recently, particulary on the penultimate stage of Tirreno Adriatico. At BMC however there are quite a few classics specialists who may now be above him in the pecking order. Philippe Gilbert with wins at Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour of Lombardy may be looking to round off his palmares. Gilbert already with pedigree at San-Remo and Flanders (two 3rd place finishes at each) and wearing the rainbow stripes means Hushovd may be forced to play a supporting role. BMC also have Greg Van Avermaet who is developing into a strong rider and the young Taylor Phinney, an under23 winner at Roubaix. A very strong team on paper but BMC have often had too many chiefs in the past when team dynamics didn’t seem to work.
One team that seems to cope well with having too many chiefs are Boonens Omega Pharma Quickstep team. They dealt the one-two punch with great effect last year and with Sylvain Chavanel and Niki Terpstra still on their roster they have plenty of cards to play should Boonen not have recovered fully from his early season injury. And of course the team signed Mark Cavendish who WILL go for Milan-San Remo and he will surely benefit from a team built for the classics.
The team Cavendish left behind, Sky, may want to broaden their horizons and get some classics success. Bernhard Eisel who has two top ten finishes at Paris-Roubaix could get free reign to ride for himself at all the classics now that his friend is away but Edvald Boasson Hagan will still be trying to realise his potential and the nod for protected status may also go to the younger British riders Geraint Thomas, winner at junior Roubaix in 2004 and Ian Stannard who has placed well in the past at some of the lesser classics. Eisel may indeed get free reign to ride how he wants and have a great spring which is no less than he deserves but the others may be affected by Skys tactics. While the team a great at controlling stage races they are less than convincing with the types of races where there are some variables thrown in like cobbles, short steep climbs and large breaks getting away and although they may have a few prospects they only ever have one plan.
Of the other teams who have a few riders who have shown their worth in the monuments in the past are Orica Green Edge with Simon Gerrans and Matthew Goss, winners of the last two Milan-San Remo’s, Garmin Sharp also have two former monument winners, who always get some form of protected status, Johan Van Summeren and Nick Nuyens who I believe is going to have a good spring because of his move away from Saxo Tinkoff. Meanwhile at Astana there is former Liege winner Maxim Iglinsky who will try to be helping Vincenzo Nibali win his first monument ever, and Italys first in 20 attempts, at Milan-San Remo. Lampre, never considered a classics team are due a great spring. Filippo Pozzato has joined them and Damiano Cunego should be looking at races other than grand tours for success as he trundles into his thirties. I believe he may even have a good chance at Flanders as well as his usual rides at Liege and Lombardia. Other obvious old favourites are Joaquim Rodriguez and Slijn Devolder but also look out for Jelle Vanendert and Matti Breschel and for something more left field look out for Movistar’s Francisco Ventoso.
Of the rising stars then. Two riders at FDJ Nacer Bouhanni and Arnaud Demare have been tipped by their boss Marc Madiot to do well at some point in the future and Davide Appolionio of AG2R is in the same mold. Of the others all are 24 and under which would usually make me think they should still be honing their classics skills but they are so talented they are already contenders. I have already mentioned Taylor Phinney age 22. John Degenkolb, 24, of Argos Shimano, now a world tour team has already got a 5th place at Milan-San Remo and could go there again. Another 24 year old Sep Vanmarcke has had success in some of the minor classics and will built on that some time soon. That leaves us with the two riders at Cannondale. First 22 year old Moreno Moser who arrived on the scene with a bang this month at Strade Bianche. But of all the riders young and old who could, and will, join Fabian Cancellara as a monuments legend? Peter Sagan. Already a 4th at Milan-San Remo when he had to let his team leader go and 5th at the Tour Of Flanders this season he is only going to be better. The question is not when he will win his first monument but when he will complete the set of all five.