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How to make cycling’s fall have real punch? Keep Paris-Roubaix in October

The worlds-Paris-Roubaix combination delivered absolutely thrilling racing — should cycling consider keeping it that way?

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The road racing season is winding down this weekend, and like most years, everyone inside the moving circus that is professional bike racing is exhausted and ready for the beach.

The Women’s Tour, Il Lombardia and Paris-Tours put a collective exclamation point and sense of finality on the long — some say too long — racing calendar that stretches from January and into mid-October.

Sure, there are a few more races over the next few weeks, including a rescheduled Ronde van Drenthe, Chrono des Nations, and others, but for much of the cycling world, things wrap up soon.

It’s been an exceptional and very different September and October this year.

Illustration picture shows Leuven's city hall during the elite men road race of the UCI World Championships Road Cycling Flanders 2021, 268,3km from Antwerp to Leuven on Sunday 26 September 2021. The Worlds take place from 19 to 26 September 2021, in several cities in Flanders, Belgium. BELGA PHOTO POOL KRISTOF RAMON (Photo by POOL KRISTOF RAMON/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)
Massive crowds lined the road en route to Leuven. (Photo: KRISTOF RAMON/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

Why? The double whammy of a Flanders-hosted worlds and the Paris-Roubaix weekend, capped by the inaugural women’s edition and a spectacular men’s race, leaves everyone trying to catch their breath.

And rightly so.

The past few weeks have been some of the most thrilling and exciting racing anyone’s seen in ages.

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It was that once-in-a-lifetime combo of a worlds in Flanders and then the rescheduled Roubaix stacking up to deliver a one-off cycling version of a two-wheeled World Cup.

Or was it?

ASO and the UCI should take a good, hard look at just how successful the past few weeks have been, and consider moving the Paris-Roubaix weekend — Paris-Roubaix Femmes and Paris-Roubaix — to October permanently.

Heresy? Probably.

But just consider why the last few weeks were so good.

It was that double-whammy of worlds and Roubaix that created this cycling nirvana of heaven and hell.

Of course, worlds isn’t always in Flanders. In fact, it probably won’t return to Belgium for at least a decade.

Next year’s worlds — if they happen — are set for Australia. Then it’s Switzerland, followed by Africa.

Two of those three worlds require long-distance travel, and the UCI is trying to take its prized world championships property out of the European heartland every three or four years.

So, yeah, it wouldn’t work next year or in 2025.

But when the worlds are in Europe, slot the Paris-Roubaix weekend in the week after.

Think about it.

Having that back-to-back whammy, followed up by the Italian “fall” classics, would help create some real heft in what’s usually an afterthought in the fall calendar.

Il Lombardia is too often overlooked. Would a fall Roubaix help boost its profile?  (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

For too long, Il Lombardia and the string of one-days in and across northern Italy have been neglected and overlooked. And that’s a shame. These are thrilling and historic races that deserve everyone’s full attention and respect.

Slotting the Paris-Roubaix weekend into the fall window would lift everything on the cycling calendar each autumn.

Though they attract different kinds of riders — Vincenzo Nibali isn’t racing Roubaix, and Mads Pedersen isn’t starting Il Lombardia — transferring the weight and prestige of Roubaix in the fall would lift Il Lombardia, long-stranded alone in the fall, and help worlds, too.

And while we’re at it, bring back the World Cup series. Golf has its FedEx Cup, and tennis the Masters Series, cycling needs a World Cup series for one-day races. It had one, but now it doesn’t.

And to really juice it up, add a big fat winner’s check to the season-long series, say, $500,000 each, for the best one-day racer in the men’s and women’s calendar. That would keep people racing.

Paris-Roubaix has always been an outlier of sorts on the men’s calendar, so it’s a moveable feast of cobblestones that could be slotted into a part of the calendar that could use some spice.

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The race is so hard and so punishing that it doesn’t quite compare to anything else on the calendar.

For traditionalists, the idea of moving Roubaix for anything less than a world pandemic is tomfoolery.

Coming at the end sharp end of the spring classics season in April, the race is naturally the high-water mark of the northern classics. The way the schedule lines up, especially on the men’s side, it’s the perfect book-end to the classics season.

Or is it?

We all learned last weekend that Paris-Roubaix works just as good — or perhaps even better — as a stand-alone target after worlds, as it gets lost in the shuffle of the very busy spring calendar.

By the end of a month of cobble-bashing in April, the men’s Roubaix is almost seen as a crucible as it is a high point. Last week’s hype was much bigger than any typical year during the spring classics, because all the focus was on Roubaix, not just as the next race in a long string of cobbled together cobblestone races.

Also by moving Roubaix to fall, it would put Flanders and the other spring classics on an even higher profile because they would get all the attention.

Classics riders, perhaps rightly so, would hate to see Roubaix moved from its spot on the calendar. The big, burly riders that thrive on the cobbles build their entire calendar around the northern classics and begin training for them in November to hit their peak in April.

The last thing they’d want would be to see another peak of form again in early October. But it’s not as if all the grand tour riders who race Il Lombardia this weekend are at their absolved peak, either, is it?

As it is so often said in cycling, it would be the same for everyone.

Depending on the worlds’ course, just as we saw over the past two weeks, it’s the same class of riders that rose to the occasion Sunday as they would have in April.

And by having the race in October, it provided an even bigger platform for the women’s edition as a stand-alone race on Saturday.

In fact, the women were center-stage and on an equal stage as the men in both the world championships and again at Paris-Roubaix Femmes, and deservedly so.

Going straight out of worlds and into the Paris-Roubaix weekend worked great this year, and it could work fabulously again.

It wouldn’t work when the worlds are beyond Europe, of course, but it would be an interesting twist when the worlds coincide in cycling’s heartland.

Seeing Roubaix in October was new, different, and absolutely thrilling. And the fall weather certainly played a role in that, too.

Fall is a great time to race and ride a bike. Last year during the COVID calendar, seeing the Giro d’Italia in October. and the Vuelta a España dip into November brought new light, different sensations, and gave both races a completely different air.

So why not?

Roubaix is in a league of its own. Juggling its date and slotting it behind a European worlds would create a new target, a unique challenge, and a fresh buzz.

And when the worlds is in Africa, Australian or beyond, move it back to April, and let riders chase the Flanders-Roubaix double on the men’s calendar as they always have.

A worlds-Roubaix combo doesn’t sound so bad either, does it?

Cycling should consider tweaking its model to keep things interesting, fun, and engaging, without detracting from its soul.

The world is changing. Professional racing and its sometimes dated calendar can, too.