The mania for medieval roads is over. There might be one or stretches to come in the weeks and months, but gone are the races where cobbled climbs and farm tracks are the strategic points. Now the races begin to head to the hills and by the end of the month, the mountains. This isn’t to say we’ve not had hilly races, more that the focus of the sport has been on the Belgian classics instead of races like the Tour of the Basque country or Giro dell’Appennino. This is now about to change. The climbs are coming.
This week sees a couple of revenge races for riders in peak form still hunting for a win and face-saving moments for teams who have lost out. Yes some hilly classics are to come but some riders and teams know they just aren’t suited to these events. First up on Tuesday there’s Paris-Camembert, a tough little one day race with some small hills that are murs towards the end. This race has the distinction of the longest ongoing race sponsorship, cheese maker Lepetit has backed the race since 1943.
There’s also the Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday, also known as the Flèche Brabançonne. Last year winner Sébastien Roessler won to relieve Team Radioshack of a lot of pressure after they’d been near-invisible during the classics campaign, this year look to Quick Step, Sky, Vacansoleil, BMC Racing and Rabobank to work for the win. The course is again hilly but often ends in a sprint. It’s also a symbolic moment, using the Brabant region south of Brussels that stradles from Dutch-speaking Flanders to French speaking Walloonia because eyes now turn to the Walloon region of Belgium and the upcoming Ardennes classics.
Next Sunday sees the Amstel Gold Classic in the Netherlands. Holland might be famous as a flat land where a quarter of the country is located below sea level but this corner but See that finger pointing south in between Germany and Belgium? That’s where the hills are, some short and steep hills make for furious racing. We’ll see a new cast of riders. One to watch is Damiano Cunego, he made the winning break of seven riders in the Giro dell’Appennino 2011, with no less than four riders from the Androni Giocattoli team… yet he beat them all.
This is a week of transition where the racing goes from cobbles to hills. A new cast of riders will appear, indeed it is now holiday time for many riders who will take a break from a block of racing that may well have started in Australia three months ago. In 10 days’ time we’ll get the Flèche Wallonne where we can expect the likes of Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans to tussle for the win. Then comes Liège-Bastogne-Liège, a one day monument with as much climbing as an Alpine stage of the Tour de France. Then it’s over to the Alps for the Giro di Trentino and the Tour de Romandie, where the Alpine stage races begin. The Giro d’Italia is less than four weeks away.