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  • Much ado about March – a guide to this month’s glut of racing

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    With several notable week long stage races and a wealth of important one-day events, March is a busy month on cycling’s calendar.

    Photographs: Offisde-L'Equipe/Pressesports; Paolo Ciaberta; Marshall Kappel; Balint Hamvas; Robert Wyatt

    With the 2018 international road season ramping up, we take a look at some of the races that take place throughout March. Included on the menu are the white roads of Tuscany, a race between two seas, a stage race in Malaysia and the first Monument of the season.

     

     

    Strade Bianche

    Strade Bianche peloton, 2015

    Date: March 3 (Men and Women)

     

    I know a little Italian, bianche means white. And Strade means roads. “White Roads” sums the race up nicely.

     

    Why? Is there snow in Tuscany in March?  Maybe this year – but the race takes its name from the white gravel roads that punctuate the undulating route. Starting and finishing in Siena, the women’s race takes in eight sectors of gravel comprising 30km of the race’s 136km, while the men tackle 11 sectors for a total of 63km out of 184km. Throw in a finish in the iconic Piazza del Campo –plus a sharp climb up to it- and you have a race that has caught the imagination of the cycling public.

     

    History: The men’s race started in 2007 and became a WorldTour event in 2017. Fabian Cancellara holds the record with three wins although last year’s winner Michal Kwiatkowski is breathing down his neck with two. A women’s race was introduced in 2015. Lizzie Deignan has stood on the podium in every edition so far, winning in 2016.

     

    Expect to see: A peloton traversing typical Tuscan landscapes obscured by dust. Or blizzards.

     

    Strade Bianche secrets with Megan Guarnier

     

     

    Paris-Nice / Tirreno-Adriatico

    Dates: March 4-11 / March 7-13

     

    The famous race to the sun. Paris-Nice was first held in 1933, the brainchild of Albert Lejeune who owned both Le Petit Journal in Paris and Le Petit Niçoise in Nice, and decided on a bike race to promote both. Thirty-three years later came Tirreno-Adriatico, the race of the two seas, to help Italian riders get some kilometres in their legs before Milan-Sanremo.

     

    How do they compare? Paris-Nice comprises eight stages with one day in the mountains. It includes the famous Col d’Eze and a final-day finish on the Quai des Etats-Unis rather than the usual Promenade des Anglais. Tirreno-Adriatico has seven stages, book-ended by team and individual time trials, and a 14km summit finish on stage four. Stage five finishes in Filottrano, home city of the late Michele Scarponi.

     

    Who is racing where? Peter Sagan, Nairo Quintana, Geraint Thomas, Tom Dumoulin and Vincenzo Nibali are heading to Italy, while Sergio Henao, Dan Martin, Pierre Rolland and Esteban Chaves are slated to start in France.

     

    Rouleur Roadbook: a road cyclist’s guide to Nice

     

     

    Ronde van Drenthe

    Date: March 11 (Men and Women)

     

    Sounds Dutch. Drenthe is a province of the Netherlands, lying in the northeast of the country. Both the men’s and women’s races, 199km and 157km respectively, starting in Emmen and finishing in Hoogeveen.

     

    What is on the menu? Crosswinds, cobbles ‘n Bergs. The women face nine cobbled sections while the men tackle 12. Both races climb the artificial VAMberg, four times. This short but steep climb was created on a landfill site and has stretches at 22%.

     

    Sounds smelly. According to Lizzie Deignan, “it’s covered in green meadow, like being in Surrey.”

     

    Who does well here? Marianne Vos holds the record with three wins and is scheduled to ride. Denmark’s Amalie Dideriksen won last year while wearing the rainbow jersey.  The men’s race doesn’t boast quite such a stellar winning cast. Kenny Van Hummel, the man once described by Tour de France race director Jean-François Pescheux as the worst climber in Tour history, won in 2011.

     

    Read: VAMberg- the most rubbish climb in cycling

     

     

    Milan-Sanremo

    Saronni Colnago

    Date: March 17

     

    A race that needs no introduction. But we have to start somewhere. This is the 109th  edition. The first was won by Lucien Petit-Breton in 1907 and two years later Luigi Ganna became the first Italian to win. Eddy Merckx claimed the race seven times between 1966 and 1976.

     

    What’s the route? The riders head south from Milan towards the coast via the Passo del Turchino. Then they head east towards the famous three Capi – Mele, Cervo and Berta – before hitting the 4.1km Cipressa and the 3.7km Poggio before the finish on Via Roma in Sanremo. All in all the 291km route makes it the longest of Monument of all.

     

    And the favourites are? Peter Sagan, Fernando Gaviria, Alexander Kristoff and last year’s winner Michal Kwiatkowski currently lead the way.

     

    Let’s hope that we don’t have a repeat of the 1910 edition. You mean when only seven riders made it to Sanremo after blizzards, three of whom were then disqualified leaving only four classified finishers? When winner Eugene Christophe took more than 12 hours to finish and had to spend a month in hospital recovering?

     

    That’s the one. Agreed.

     

    Top 10: Finish line faces of Milan-Sanremo

     

     

    Trofeo Alfredo Binda

     

    Date: March 18

     

    I know that name. Alfredo Binda was the first men’s professional road world champion. He won three rainbow jerseys in all and claimed multiple Giro, Lombardy and Sanremo titles.

     

    But this is a women’s race. The race finishes in Cittiglio, Binda’s birthplace. The 131km race ends with four laps of a 17km circuit that takes in a 4km climb.

     

    Historical snapshot: First held in 1974 as a regional event, the race took on international status in 2007 and has been on the Women’s WorldTour since its inception in 2016. British riders have done well here with Nicole Cooke, Emma Pooley and Lizzie Deignan all winning twice.

     

    It’s nice that there is a top-level women’s race celebrating a multiple male world champion. Indeed. When will the Yvonne Reynders Classic or the Beryl Burton GP will be added to the men’s WorldTour?

     

    Read: Worlds 1927 – Alfredo Binda, Nürburgring and the first rainbow jersey

     

     

    Tour de Langkawi

    Dates: March 18-25

     

    From Europe to Asia. To Malaysia to be exact. Initially announced as a ten-stage affair, the organisers have since clarified that: “Following the directive from the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), it has been advised that the 23rd edition of Le Tour de Langkawi in 2018 will be eight stages.”

     

    Why? According to the organiser’s statement:The UCI felt that a shorter Tour de Langkawi 2018 will make the race more competitive.”

     

    What is the new route then? At the time of writing the organisers had not unveiled the revamped route but expect a sprinter-friendly race with the Queen Stage being a finish to Cameron Highlands.

     

    Who is going? Team Dimension Data won in 2017 with Ryan Gibbons and the team will return in 2018. Also making an appearance will be Italy’s Andrea Guardini who holds the record for most stage wins at the race. He has 22 so far.

     

    Gallery: Tour of Langkawi through the lens of Marshall Kappel

     

     

    Volta Ciclista a Catalunya

     

    Dates: March 19-25

     

    First held in 1911, I believe. Indeed. It is the oldest of Spain’s major stage races. The 2018 edition will be the 98th running. Winners in the 1960s and 1970s included Eddy Merckx, Luis Ocana, Felice Gimondi and Bernard Thevenet. More recently Dan Martin, Richie Porte, Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde have all claimed the GC.

     

    And the parcours? The race starts in Calella and finishes seven stages later in Barcelona. Finishes at Vallter 2000 and La Molina in the Pyrenees on successive days are likely to play a major part in the final standings. The race ends with a circuit stage of Montjuic, Barcelona.

     

    Expect: A Spaniard on the podium. Only four times in the past 40 editions has a Spanish rider not made the top-three.

     

    Rouleur Roadbook: a road cyclist’s guide to Girona

     

     

    Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde

    Dates: March 21 (Men) March 22 (Women)

     

    Ah yes, Three Days of De Panne, three great days of racing. It’s just the two days this year.

     

    What? Why? In recent years De Panne and Dwars Door Vlaanderen have been jostling for their places on the calendar. Dwars Door Vlaanderen became a WorldTour race in 2017 and stated its aim of taking the prestigious pre-Tour of Flanders spot from De Panne. In June 2017 the UCI announced a move in dates, bringing De Panne forward a week and moving Dwars Door Vlaanderen to just before Flanders.

     

    Why couldn’t it still be three days? The organisers initially scheduled a men’s “Sprint Challenge” as well but due to lack of interest, that has been dropped. What’s left is two one-day races from Bruges to De Panne, over cobbles. Race distance are 200km for the men, 145km for the women.

     

    The organisers say: We responded to the demand from the cycling world for innovation. But it turned out that there was too little enthusiasm from the teams.

     

    Read: Russell Downing’s Three Days of De Panne

     

     

    Record Bank E3 Harelbeke

    Date: March 23

     

    Who will be the sheriff of the Texas of Flanders? What?

     

    I’ve just seen the race poster. That’s the tag-line. Oh. Hang on … Right, a man in a cowboy hat, pulling a wheelie and waving a gun about. Well, I suppose that explains the cowgirls.

     

    It’s my turn to ask. What? The cowgirls that danced at the race launch. Apparently this region is known as the Texas of Flanders though the link seems tenuous at best. Still, it could be worse, the 2011 poster had images of cyclists riding over the contours of a naked woman lying in a meadow.

     

    I’m sorry I brought it up. Let’s talk about the race route. Starting and finishing in Herelbeke, the 206km route takes in 15 bergs, including the Paterberg, Oude Kwaremont, Taaienberg and Kapelberg, and eight stretches of cobbles that total 15km.

     

    Classic Belgian fare then. This is a genuine test for the best Classics riders out there. In both 2010 and 2013 Fabian Cancellara won before doing the Flanders/Roubaix double, as did Tom Boonen in 2005 and 2012. Last year Greg Van Avermaet outsprinted Philippe Gilbert with the places reversed a week later at Flanders.

     

    Yeehaw! Please don’t.

     

    Fabian Cancellara interview: the book of Fabian

     

     

    Gent Wevelgem / Dwars Door Vlaanderen

    Gent-Wevelgem

    Dates: March 25 / 28

     

    The build-up to the Tour of Flanders continues. Gent-Wevelgem starts in Deinze for the men (250km) and Ypres for the women (142km) – neither of which are part of the city of Gent. Both finish in Wevelgem with the infamous Kemmelberg among the ‘bergs to be tamed.

     

    And Dwars Door Vlaanderen? The race finish is in Waregem. The women (117km) start in Tielt and race over five ‘bergs and two cobbled sections; the men (180km) start in Roeselare and face 12 ‘bergs and four cobble sections.

     

    History: Five men have won Gent-Wevelgem three times: Robert van Eenaeme (twice as an independent, once as a professional), Rik Van Looy, Eddy Merckx, Mario Cipollini and Tom Boonen. Dwars Door Vlaanderen first held a women’s race in 2012, Amy Pieters has three wins to her name. The men’s edition started in the 1940s under the name Dwars door Belgie.

     

    Did you know? In 1945 Robert van Eenaeme was reportedly awarded his third Gent-Wevelgem win after a photograph in a newspaper proved he had crossed the line fractionally ahead of Maurice Van Herzele, who had initially been declared the winner.

     

    Rouleur Roadbook: a road cyclist’s guide to Ghent