Competitive Cyclist has asked me: “What did the races leading up to the Spring Classics mean to you”?
After nearly two days of thinking about it my response is; “Everything”. Pure and simple, I loved to race my bike and, harder the races the better. The harder the races, the less time my mind wanders. The Classics demand more ‘focus’ than other races in the world and I like that. If your a bike racer then you’ve had moments in the pain cave. In the Classics, time in the pain cave lasts for hours and hours.
To start this blog I went back to look at some of my results that I found here: http://wielrennen.hour.be/Renners_Wedstrijden.asp?NumRenner=989
It’s an interactive list and the results tell the story. If these races don’t mean ‘everything’ to you then you’ll likely get spit out the back of the peloton. The notable European races in the Spring are the true Power tests for cyclists. The races leading up to the ‘Classics’ are hard, but we all know that when you arrive to best races in the world there is more talent and riders who are peaking. There are battles, and then there is war. The Classics are a legalized war amongst men – modern gladiators.
As I neo-Pro, I remember the excitement and anticipation before my first semi-classic. I was focused on proving to my team that I had value and deserved my contract. In the end I got good result and caught a lot of attention; Omloop het Nieusbald was stacked with big hitters… (http://wielrennen.hour.be/Renners_Wedstrijden_Detail.asp?Day=26&numwedstrijd=1&numjaar=8&Code=A )
As a neo-Pro with WordPerfect I suffered badly in Paris-Nice. Later, I finished 32nd and 28th in ‘97 & ‘99 respectfully. Each year we made it to Nice, my engine had been transformed and was starting to fire. It takes hard stage races like this to prepare yourself for the what is coming up.
As much as you fine tune and open up the engine, in Paris-Nice for example, it’s a whole another level in the first Classic; Milan-San-Remo. MSR is the longest Classic and takes nearly 7 hours to complete. There is at least an extra hour of time in the pain cave over any stage in Paris-Nice, but because of those 8 days of intense racing, mentally and physically, you’re ready for a 298kms day. That’s nearly 185 miles, with an average speed close to 45kph or 28 mph, each year.
When was the last time you averaged 28 mph for over one hour? In Milan-San-Remo we do it for nearly 7 hours. If a race like this doesn’t mean ‘everything’ to you, you’ll get spit out of the peleton and likely spit out of the sport.
The Classics in Belgium are harder than Milan San Remo. It’s going to take the imprinting of MSR and more racing and training to be ready for what’s waiting up North. After another tune up stage race like Catalunya or Basque along with a semi-classic or two, are the battles that prepare you for the war ahead.
I’ve done all of the Classics, but I like certain races more than others. I prefer Tour of Flanders over Paris-Roubaix, because of the cobbled climbs. Out of 200 riders, I’m much better on the cobbled climbs over the flat cobbles of Paris-Roubaix. In 2000, I made the early break in Paris-Roubaix for nearly 120kms and this made the race bearable and enjoyable really. It was an honor to be wearing the U.S. National Championship jersey and showing it to the world all the way to the Arrenburg Forest. See a video clips here:
Tour of Flanders 2000: Marty leads the Peloton
My favorite Spring races are: the semi-Classic race, Fleche Wallone; and, the Classic race Liege-Bastogne-Liege. I improved my results each year, and finally, in 1999, I took 2nd place in points behind Michel Bartoli for the combined results by placing 19th in Flech Wallone and 18th in Liege-Bastogne-Liege. LBL is often argued as the hardest of the Classics and cracking the top 20 means your throwing/ducking punches with the best riders in the World. I had a good week.
Fleche Wallone clip:
Hammer down on La Redoute 1999
Amstel Gold usually comes after the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. The first 150-200kms of this race scares me the same way being in the peleton across the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix does. However, the dangers of Amstel Gold come from the ‘traffic furniture’ found throughout Holland. Loosely translated, ‘traffic furniture’, refers to all of the tight round-abouts, curb and gutters, sign posts, bike paths and all kinds of urban concrete for motorists and bikes. It makes stressful racing if you were not born and raised in that part of the world.
I have survived and avoided the many crashes that occur in Amstel Gold to be in the mix as the race reaches the hilly sections in the last 50kms. This is a big relief, but the stress of the first 200kms always took its toll, and I just didn’t have the legs for a top 20 in the final.
In 1999 I did every Spring Classic, Milan San Remo, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Amstel Gold which I believe is pushing the human limit. I only counted 3 other riders that did all those races that year. Usually the teams split their riders who prepare and do 2-3 Classics before taking a much needed rest. However, I loved to race my bike and the harder the races the better. I guess that includes a program, the harder the better; but looking back on it, I believe it was a little over the top.
For most riders who will race the Tour de France in July, it’s okay to completely destroy yourself in the Spring Classics and then take a rest before focusing on France.
Thanks for reading.