Road

Waregem and Harelbeke: A time to test for classics teams

Big names and bigger teams are fine-tuning form and team compositions in this week's semi-classics ahead of the major spring races

MILAN (VN) — On the eve of the big cobbled monuments, Belgium’s Dwars door Vlaanderen in Waregem on Wednesday and the E3 Harelbeke on Friday will provide a good litmus test for the top teams.

The teams have already passed several elimination rounds to get to this point late in March. They have been racing around the globe, recently in the Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico stage races, and Sunday’s Milano-Sanremo.

Etixx-Quick-Step — the king of classics teams — is walking around with a limp already. It lost Tom Boonen due to a crash two weeks ago in Paris-Nice. The Belgian, winner of multiple cobbled monuments, dislocated his shoulder and needed surgery.

“When I heard about it, I felt bad myself,” long-time rival, Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) said.

“I prefer that he’s on his bike and that he’s in the classics. I prefer that he’s there, to have him and his team, tactic-wise, it’s better.”

Without Boonen, the leadership pressure will be divided between Dutchman Niki Terpstra and Czech Zdenek Stybar. Terpstra won the Dwars door Vlaanderen in 2014 and set himself up for a run that included Paris-Roubaix victory two and a half weeks later.

Tomorrow in Waregem, he lines up again for an important pre-Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) and Roubaix test. His role for those classics could become even more important depending on Stybar’s condition.

Stybar crashed twice in the closing kilometers heading toward Sanremo on Sunday and came away with “a few scratches” on his ribs and knee but said it is “nothing serious.”

The shake-ups in team Tinkoff-Saxo could be more serious than Stybar’s problems. Owner Oleg Tinkov has sidelined team manager, Bjarne Riis because he is reportedly upset about the team’s lack of results. So far, the Russian/Danish team has only won twice in 2015.

Peter Sagan won in Harelbeke in 2014 before signing a reported $4 million contract with Tinkoff. The pressure will be on him to repeat Friday. E3 will also give some idea as to whether he can go on to finally win one of cycling’s monuments.

Wednesday in Waregem, Sagan’s helpers Matti Breschel and Maciej Bodnar will fly the yellow team colors.

Teams Giant-Alpecin, Trek, Sky, and BMC, like Tinkoff, will also bring out their big stars in Harelbeke. Trek will rely on sprinters in Dwars and Cancellara in E3, and of course, later in Flanders and Roubaix. Cancellara appears to be on track given his wins and placings, including a top-10 in Sanremo.

BMC Racing will take the same approach. BMC, along with Sky, dominated the final of Milano-Sanremo. In E3, some of the same names will lead the red and black train: Silvan Dillier, Daniel Oss, and the team’s cobblestone star, Greg Van Avermaet.

Sir Bradley Wiggins will headline Sky’s team starting with E3. He continues with the Three Days of De Panne, Flanders, Scheldeprijs, and his target, Roubaix.

“And they are all very different races,” Wiggins said in the Tour of Qatar.

“It’s not about just me preparing for Roubaix, ’cause there are guys like Ian Stannard, Luke Rowe, and Geraint Thomas who have goals in other races, it’s about being a part of that group and doing a good job for those guys so that when it comes my turn, they will repay it.”

The E3 Harelbeke, raced on many of the same cobbled climbs that Flanders uses, should give followers an idea of Wiggins’ condition following Paris-Nice. Sky’s team includes Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner, Ian Stannard, and one of Sanremo’s main animators, Geraint Thomas.

Sky and Giant will both skip tomorrow’s race in Waregem.

Giant’s German John Degenkolb will return to action in E3 Harelbeke after winning the Milano-Sanremo. His spring campaign is already a success, and he may find the upcoming races even easier with one in the bag. After what he called “the best day” of his career, he said that he is looking forward to the next races, Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday, Flanders, and then Roubaix, where he was second last year.