Good news: Road season is underway. Bad news: As always, we cycling fans have a befuddling task ahead: Sorting through the hundreds of races that span 12 months of the calendar. So I figured I’d help you out a bit. Here are my predictions for the month of March, what to watch for, and why it matters.
Yes! Here we go, after the February tease, you can really sink your teeth into some great racing this month.
Strade Bianche: Boels-Dolmans will win the Women’s WorldTour opener at Strade Bianche — but who does it … Guarnier? Deignan? Also on March 4, men’s Strade is just as fun, plus it’s now a bona-fide WorldTour race for them too. Seems like a good time for Peter Sagan to claim his first title in Siena, as he builds toward Flanders and Roubaix.
Paris-Nice (March 5-12) and Tirreno-Adriatico (March 8-14): Our march (get it!?) into classics season takes a detour with two major stage races. This makes the weather gods angry. They want more cobbles racing. At least one stage of either Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico is cancelled due to bad weather — last year we had a twofer! Paris-Nice truncated stage 3, and Tirreno outright cancelled its queen stage. As for actual racing action, start lists are still a work in progress, but Paris-Nice will see the great French hope, Romain Bardet racing on home roads. Similarly, Fabio Aru will treat his country’s fans to all of his goofy suffer-faces on Italian soil in Tirreno. Plus, it’s time to get stoked for some more hot, hot Alberto Contador action at Paris-Nice. Remember how strong he looked at Ruta del Sol last month?
Milano-Sanremo pro tip: Sleep in on March 18 and then fire up the livestream when they’re about to reach the Cipressa. Or, you can set your alarm and watch the (boring) coverage from the early kilometers. Then you’ll understand why grand tours are running fewer 230km stages. This race is a lottery (Arnaud Démare had the winning numbers last year), so predictions are sketchy, but maybe Sagan can do it this time? Or maybe he can just do this again?
Trofeo Alfredo Binda: A day later, March 19, Italy hosts the Women’s WorldTour for a completely different kind of race. While Milano-Sanremo is a long, mostly flat, sprinter-friendly affair, Alfredo Binda winds around the hills of Lombardy, providing ample action. It’s a shame women’s racing is difficult to watch live, because I’d wager this Sunday race will make for better TV than most of Sanremo. Lizzie Deignan has won the last two editions — can she make it a hat-trick in 2017?
Volta a Catalunya (March 20-26): Start lists are still very preliminary, but this looks like our first chance to see Chris Froome strut his stuff in a race that isn’t Down Under. Yes, he opened the season at the Herald Sun Tour, but Catalunya will offer a nice appetizer for the summer to come. Contador is also slated to start — can he hold a candle to the reigning king of France? I don’t want to speak out of turn here, but is it possible that this Spanish race will eclipse Paris-Nice and Tirreno as March’s best stage race? It sure is less likely to have stages cancelled for weather.
Cobbles, cobbles, cobbles! We end the month classics racing. First, there’s Dwars Door Vlaanderen, March 22. If you’re bored at work on a Wednesday morning, why not watch? The real can’t-miss kickoff (apologies to Omloop), however, is Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem, March 26. For the women’s WorldTour Gent-Wevelgem race, I’m thinking Team Sunweb because its riders rode really well at Omloop, a somewhat similar race. Perhaps Ellen van Dijk can win her first title at Gent this season? On the whole, this race has slowly become a little less of a sprinters’ classic, especially for the elite men. This could be one for John Degenkolb as he reemerges from injury with his new Trek-Segafredo team? Just watch out for the canals!