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Spring classics in the fall? Why not, say specialists

The UCI's new calendar sees October stacked with one-day races as the fall takes on a new complexion in 2020

The spring classics in the fall might have a strange ring to them, but it beats the alternative.

For the special breed of riders who live and train for the cobblestones of Belgium and northern France, the past few weeks during the coronavirus racing shutdown have been like going through withdrawal.

There is now a fix for their racing jones, with the monuments firmly back on the radar in the UCI’s updated 2020 racing calendar released Tuesday. The only trick is that the spring classics will be held in the fall.

“I am happy that we’ll have a calendar, that we know when we’ll have the classics we love so much,” said Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s Zdenek Stybar. “It gives me a lot of joy to know when Flanders and Roubaix will take place, although it’s weird to have them in autumn.”

Cycling’s five monuments are a centerpiece in the revised calendar set to run from August into mid-November. Classics specialists like Belgian veteran Stijn Vandenbergh (Ag2r-La Mondiale) will have plenty of chances to test their mettle if health and safety conditions allow racing to unfold as officials are hoping for.

For Vandenbergh, having a target with firm dates is the first step back to racing.

“If we can race it, sure we want to do it,” Vandenbergh told VeloNews. “My fitness was very good coming into the classics this year. It was a shame they were not raced. If we can do them in October, why not?”

Nearly all of the major Belgian one-day classics remain on the calendar. The notable exception is the E3 Binkbank Classic (Harelbeke), which decided to cancel its 2020 edition. Otherwise, classics riders like Vandenbergh will see most of the major season goals back on the calendar. It’s just that they’ll fall on very unfamiliar dates.

“It will be a bit strange to race in October, but the weather might be the same,” Vandenbergh said. “It will be a bit odd to end the season with Paris-Roubaix in October. Everything will happen later in the season now.”

Vandenbergh is one of many willing to race the classics, no matter what month they fall in. Photo: Stephane Mantey-Pool/Getty Images

The UCI and key stakeholders have sprinkled the major one-day races across the revised calendar. Strade Bianche and Milano-Sanremo will kick off the COVID-19-affected racing calendar, with the white roads as the first race back on August 1, followed by the Italian monument on August 8.

The way the calendar is laid out, top classics stars would be able to race the Tour de France and not miss any of the major northern classics if they chose to. The Tour is set to run from August 29-September 20, followed by the worlds from September 20-27 in Switzerland. The two Canadian races will overlap with the Tour, with Fléche Wallonne slated for September 30.

Anyone hoping to race the Giro d’Italia or Vuelta a España as well as cycling’s marquee one-day races, however, will find some scheduling complications.

“October should be quite a busy month and it will be a challenge to see how our program will look like once we return to competition,” Stybar said. “I can’t wait to talk with the sports directors and start working for these goals.”

The revised classics season will continue into October, overlapping with the Giro (October 3-25). The major dates include Liège-Bastogne-Liège on October 4, Amstel Gold Race on October 10, Gent-Wevelgem on October 11, A Travers la Flandre on October 14, and Brugge-De Panne on October 25.

The big dates stack up with Tour of Flanders on October 18, Paris-Roubaix on October 25, and Il Lombardia on October 31, with those final two races overlapping with the Vuelta (October 20-November 9).

Avoiding conflicts with the grand tours will be easy for Vandenbergh. The 36-year-old Belgian has only raced two grand tours in his 14-year career, with two editions of the Tour a decade ago. Redialing fitness for the new-look fall classics will be a new challenge.

“Normally by October you’re finished racing and taking a rest,” he said, adding that training for the classics typically begins in November. “That will be a big change. I think the riders who normally perform well in the classics could be a bit less strong. We have to see what happens.”

Vandenbergh was even contemplating retirement after this year’s spring classics before coronavirus forced racing to be suspended until the end of July. For Vandenbergh, a former teammate of Tom Boonen now a captain on Ag2r’s improving classics team, he wouldn’t want to end his career without one last run across the cobbles.

“I was not sure if I would be racing again, or stop after this year,” he said. “Now I have in mind to keep racing, especially if we don’t ride the classics this year. I don’t want to stop like this.”