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Face-Off: Cauberg out, new Roubaix pavé In

Two big spring classics announced notable route changes for the 2017 season Wednesday, drawing cheers from some fans, and jeers from others. Essentially, Amstel Gold Race has eliminated its final climb of the Cauberg, an iconic element of that race’s finale, and Paris-Roubaix has added two new, somewhat obscure cobbled sectors to the first half of the race.

What do we think of race directors meddling with the courses? Will these changes make for better racing? Luckily, two VeloNews editors (Spencer and Fred) disagree. So let’s get to the debate:

Amstel Gold has removed the final climb of the Cauberg. Yay or nay?

Spencer Powlison @spino_powerlegs: This is a great move. As a fan (and as an occasional, mediocre racer) negative racing tactics are the worst. When the peloton is riding with fear, when it’s anticipating a decisive climb at the very end of a long, hard day in the saddle, it leads to half-hearted attacks and furious chases to shut down escapes. Amstel is all about the Cauberg — until now. Well, to be fair, it still hinges on this fabled 1.2-kilometer climb, as the race goes up it three times. But with this new route, the last Cauberg is about 19km from the line, a perfect jump-off point for a bold late attack and a solo attempt to win. This is a lot like how the newish Tour of Flanders route encourages a bold attack on the Paterberg (ahem, Peter Sagan), and then delivers a nail-biting final 20 minutes of racing as we wait to see if the chasers can bring back the escape.

You know what other race would do well to switch up the route like this? Flèche-Wallonne! Flèche is even worse than Amstel when it comes to a hang-around-in-the-peloton kind of day, as everyone (well okay, mostly Alejandro Valverde) waits until the final trip up the Mur de Huy. Here’s hoping those organizers will be bold enough to mix things up for more excitement in the Ardennes.

Fred Dreier @freddreier: Spencer, that take belongs in your weekly wrap-up of garbage takes. Losing the Cauberg is a major bummer. My favorite part of Amstel is watching the peloton zip through the narrow streets of Valkenburg in the run-in to the Cauberg. It’s one of my favorite scenes in all pro cycling. All of the tension from six hours of racing is bottled into this zany, hectic two-minute block, and then that tension explodes all over the 1.2-km climb. It’s mayhem. It’s beautiful. It’s one of those tension-release moments in sports, like when Joey Bautista hits a walk-off home run, or Steph Curry nails a 35-foot shot. I agree, placing the finish line at the summit of the ascent made for a predictable champion. Placing that finish 1km from the summit made for an exciting finale, as the pack always bore down on whichever rider went clean on the ascent. It always made for great will-he or won’t-he moments.

Here’s the thing: The days of long breakaways at the Ardennes is long gone, unless cycling throws a new curveball our way (Motors? New PEDs? Nitroglycerine transfusions?). The riders are all strong, but nobody has He-Man-like strength anymore. So after 250km of racing, long-range breakaways aren’t going to stick, especially if it’s a solo move. Sure, I still love watching Frank Vandenbroucke jam up La Redoute in his big ring from 1999, and Bjarne Riis churn the chase group into muck at Amstel in 1997. But I watch it more for comedic value, and would rather see Dan Martin, Alejandro Valverde, and Julian Alaphilippe sprint to the top of a hill.

Paris-Roubaix added some new cobbled sectors. Do we care?

Spencer: Yes, yes Roubaix is all about the stones, but maybe this is too much of a good thing. The race is so long and hard that the finale is a slow-motion sprint, which doesn’t always make for great TV. I think Roubaix would deliver better racing if riders could come to the velodrome with slightly fresher legs, and a few more kilometers of cobbles (especially some that are uphill, according to ASO staff) aren’t the best way to do this.

Also, though Mathew Hayman stunned cycling fans by making the early breakaway and holding on to win in the velodrome, it’s pretty rare that breakaways work. I’d like to see more promising breaks in Roubaix, and not just collections of lieutenants who are simply going up the road to wait around for their leaders. Perhaps if the first half of the race is a bit mellower, a break could use is organization to get a bigger gap, and plus there’d be less likelihood of incident if they aren’t pounding and unnecessary pavé.

Fred: I support adding more stones early. If there are more opportunities for breakaways to get established, or for strongmen to make their move, then I support the change. Here’s what I’d like to see: rowdy, bumpy cobbles right off the bat, then 100km or so of buttery pavement, followed by the traditional Roubaix finale. I think we should encourage more strong riders to try for that early move.

My favorite Paris-Roubaix is when a small group of between three to six riders enters the final 20km together. That’s when you see riders show grit, tactical acumen, and cojones.