The pro road season chugs along this week, with major stage races and one-day events being held across Europe. Stars of the cobbled classics are battling on the pavé, while Tour de France favorites are blitzing across Italy.
Here’s your insider’s guide for the races going on for the week of Monday, March 15 through Sunday, March 21.
Tirreno-Adriatico stage 7
Tuesday, March 16
What to know: Tadej Pogačar vs. Wout van Aert in a final individual time trial to decide the winner — that’s pretty much all you need to know. The best race of the 2021 season — thus far — wrapped up with a short 10.1km ITT in San Benedetto del Tronto. We only hope and pray that no errant dog walkers stroll onto the course this year.
The route: Pan flat 10km route up and down the waterfront in this picturesque Italian resort town, right on the Tyrrhenian Sea-front. The overhead shots are likely to make you search Airbnb for accommodation deals there.
Who to watch: Wout van Aert, Tadej Pogačar, Geraint Thomas, Egan Bernal, Julian Alaphilippe, and the list goes on.
Nokere Koerse Women
Wednesday, March 17
What to know: This thrilling mid-week semi-classic traces a winding loop through Flanders, and hits multiple sectors of pavé, as well as some punchy cobbled climbs, before the sprint uphill on the cobbled Nokereberg — a 400-meter drag at 6 percent. The race was one of the unfortunate cancelations in 2020 due to COVID-19, and the women’s edition has been held just once, in 2019. That year marked the coming out part for Lorena Wiebes, who took the uphill drag ahead of Lisa Klein and thrust the then 19-year-old Wiebes into the national conversation.
The route: The 124-kilometer race starts in Deinze, the former start of Gent-Wevelgem, and then heads south for series of loops around Nokere and Kruisem, before the sprint back into the heart of Nokere. The field takes on 15 punchy climbs along the route, and there’s usually a regrouping before the final kick into Nokere.
Who to watch: Wiebes returns to lead Team DSM, and she seems to be at full power after suffering a scary crash at the Healthy Ageing Tour. The stars of cobbled racing and fast sprints will also be in attendance, with BikeExchange bringing Sarah Roy and Gracie Brown; SD Worx coming in with sprinter Jolien D’Hoore and Amy Pieters for the fast finish; and Trek-Segafredo bringing sprinters Amalie Dideriksen and Chloe Hosking. And don’t forget Lotte Kopecky of Team Liv, who already owns one sprint victory this year at Le Samyn des Dames.
Broadcast: GCN + (highlights only – bahhh)
Nokere Koerse men
Wednesday, March 17
What to know: Cobbled crushers are sharpening their respective spears in the lead up to Gent-Wevelgem and Flanders, and Nokere Koerse is one of the final big tests before the biggest races of the season. This year the field is somewhat diminished, with no Jumbo-Visma or Mathieu van der Poel, and the Deceuninck-Quick-Step ‘B’ team in attendance. Still, this race packs enough excitement on the cobbles to get you stoked for Flanders.
The route: The 195km route also starts in Deinze, and goes further south into the hilly region just west of Oudenaarde. It’s up and down, and right and left, and twist and turn for the entire journey, with the final kick to the town square providing the fun finish.
Who to watch: Defending champ Cees Bol (Team DSM) is slated to be here, as is Mark Cavendish. You have to look a bit harder to see other stars. Sep Vanmarcke, Jasper Philipsen, and Juan Molano are also ones to watch.
Saturday, March 20
What to know: The year’s first monument (sorry, Strade Bianche) again sends riders on a long and often boring 299km trek from downtown Milan to the beachside town of San Remo. Along the way the riders will eat, drink, pee, maybe sleep, and then prepare for the furious finish of the Cipressa and Poggio, before the death-defying spring to the Via Roma. Set your alarm for 20 minutes or so before the expected finish, because those are some of the best minutes of the annual WorldTour season staple.
The route: It’s the traditional route, with the Capo Mele, Capo Cervo, Capo Berta, Cipressa, and Poggio di Sanremo all falling in the final 60km. Before that, it’s a hilly and often flat route that is best known for its overhead helicopter shots of beaches and beautiful Italian countryside.
Who to watch: Everyone is here. Defending champion Wout van Aert and his foil Mathieu van der Poel; sprinters Fernando Gaviria, Sam Bennett, Giulio Ciccone, and Arnaud Demaré; Peter Sagan, Julian Alaphilippe, and Philippe Gilbert; Christophe Laporte and Romain Bardet. The list goes on and on.
Trofeo Alfredo Binda
Sunday, March 21
What to know: The second race of the 2021 UCI Women’s WorldTour rumbles back onto the calendar after a hiatus in 2020 due to COVID-19. Alfredo Binda is an awesome race to follow because the hilly route and descent to the flat finish mean it could end with a solo breakaway, diminished group, or bunch kick. We’ve seen all three scenarios in recent years, with Marianne Vos taking the thrilling bunch kick win in 2019. The year before that, Kasia Niewiadoma broke away in the rain to score a dramatic solo win.
The route: The 141.8km course is littered with hills, with the peloton tackling the Orino climb five times — four of them come in the final circuit — before the plunge to the finish.
Who to watch: Marianne Vos, Lizzie Deignan and Elisa Longo Borghini, Chantel van den Broek-Blaak and Elena Cecchini. I’m sure there are others but the start list has not been updated yet.