Unlike the 2020 season, fans of bike racing are enjoying a calendar not so different from normal. Whilst some races such as the hugely popular Tour de Yorkshire have been cancelled this year, almost all major races as well as all of the five monuments and three Grand Tours are scheduled to go ahead.
Last weekend we saw the first big weekend of classics racing with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne on successive days. Two brutally tough one-day races in Belgium. At both races, British fans were treated with stellar performances from Tom Pidcock in his first few weeks as a World Tour Pro. Tom even took an incredible third place at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. We can expect big things and even a major victory for him this year.
This weekend too we can expect nail-biting racing with the iconic Strade Bianche one-day race in Tuscany and the start of the eight-day stage race; Paris-Nice known as ‘the race to the sun’.
The Strade Bianche race is very new to the UCI World Tour calendar in comparison to races such as Paris-Roubaix which was first ridden in 1896 making it older than the Tour de France. The Strade Bianche began in 2007 following the success of the amateur race which had been running for a decade. The name translates to ‘white road’ which refers to the iconic white gravel sectors that define the race. First created exclusively for riders of vintage bike, it harked back to the bygone era of racing on dirt and unpaved roads.
Today, the race is a highly anticipated milestone of the early UCI World Tour season and the first major classic in the Italian calendar. Starting and finishing in Sienna, the race promises to challenge every rider with unpredictable terrain, sharp and repetitive climbs across 184km. The race finishes at the heart of the medieval city in the Piazza de Campo. The women’s race takes place on the same day across a shorter distance.
The favourite for this year’s men’s race is the Dutch star, Mathieu Van Der Poel after a strong start to the season with a procession of strength at the Omloop classic as well as Le Samyn despite a snapped handlebar. In the women’s race, likely contenders for the win include World Champion Anna Van Der Breggen and defending champion Annemiek Van Vleuten who has won the previous two editions. Having left her Mitchelton-Scott team after four years in December, Van Vleuten has had an uncharacteristically disappointing start to the early season in her new Movistar colours. After a poor showing at the Omloop by her standards, she’ll be hoping to make amends for this on Saturday.
This Sunday marks the start of the Paris-Nice course. Starting in the typically cold and wintery conditions of Paris in March and finishing in the sunshine of southern France in Nice, the race earns it’s nickname; ‘the race to the sun’. The race is the first chance in the season for stage racers to stretch their legs and prove their form ahead of the Tour de France.
Riders taking to the start on Sunday include defending champion Maximilian Schachmann, winner of the 2020 Giro d’Italia Tao Geoghegan Hart and serial stage race winner Primoz Roglic. The Paris-Nice course guarantees explosive racing with the battle for the overall often overlapping with the daily fight for stage wins. Stage one is a 166km hilly course which will suit the puncheurs and strong sprinters. Likely favourites for the stage win include Sam Bennett who has already shown exceptional early season promise with two stage wins at the UAE Tour, Arnaud Demare who’ll be seeking his first win of the season and Mads Pederson; 2020 World Champion and winner of the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne last Sunday.
Let us know your predictions or the races your most looking forward to on social media!