Six things we want to see at the 2017 Spring Classics - Road Cycling UK

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Six things we want to see at the 2017 Spring Classics

With the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad marking the start of the cobbled Classics, here's what to look out for

The Spring Classics officially kick off this weekend, with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad – now a UCI WorldTour event – and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne allowing us to check out the early-season form of the cobble-munching protagonists.

Ian Stannard, a two-time Omloop winner, and Luke Rowe will represent British interests with Team Sky, while there are a number of exciting stories to be played out on the cobbles of Belgium and Northern France this spring.

Greg van Avermaet won last year’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad to kick off the Spring Classics (pic – Sirotti)

Tom Boonen’s final hurrah, world champion Peter Sagan and Olympic champion Greg van Avermaet going wheel-to-wheel, and rising stars like 22-year-old Tiejs Benoot looking to make their mark on the big stage.

And that’s before we even get on to Milan-San Remo or the Ardennes Classics – with Philippe Gilbert now racing for QuickStep Floors.

There is loads to look forward to, so we’ve picked out six things we really want to see happening this spring.

Tom Boonen going out with a bang

Four Paris-Roubaix titles, three at the Tour of Flanders, three at Gent-Wevelgem and five E3 victories; 36-year-old Tom Boonen has made the cobbled Classics his own during a glistening career.

But, after seeing his great rival Fabian Cancellara retire last year, Boonen will also step out of the saddle for the final time this year, making this spring his final Classics campaign.

Tom Boonen will look to bow out with a bang in his final Spring Classics campaign (pic – Tim de Waele/QuickStep Floors)

And the script appears to be written for Tornado Tom to sign off with one final victory – something he narrowly missed out in 2016 when Mat Hayman pipped him to Paris-Roubaix success.

Boonen has seen the next generation come through in recent years, and he hasn’t won one of the WorldTour cobbled Classics since his quadruple in 2012, but RideLondon success last summer, followed by third place at the World Championships and a stage win in San Juan earlier this year all suggest Tommeke Boonen is not done yet…

World champion vs Olympic champion

Peter Sagan claimed the rainbow jersey for a second consecutive year with victory in Doha, while Greg van Avermaet claimed Olympic road race gold in Rio.

But both return to more familiar territory this spring, having both won on the Belgian cobbles in 2016.

Peter Sagan and Greg van Avermaet will renew their fledgling rivalry on the cobbles (pic – Sirotti)

Van Avermaet beat Sagan in the season opener at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but crashed out as Sagan went on to win the Tour of Flanders – setting himself up for another stunning season to follow in the process.

They return to Omloop this weekend, and will resume hostilities while both looking for their first victory of the 2017 season.

While the Boonen v Cancellara rivalry has ended with Spartacus retiring, Sagan v Van Avermaet has plenty of years left to flourish yet.

British success

Could this finally be the year of sustained British success in the Spring Classics? OK, so we ask this every year but this time confidence is even higher than before.

Ian Stannard’s third place at Paris-Roubaix last year, couple with some useful top-five finishes at the Omloop and Tour of Flanders for Luke Rowe reiterated the two Brits’ potential.

Could Ian Stannard end the long British wait for Paris-Roubaix success this spring? (pic: Sweetspot)

And they have both started the season with success already too, having both bagged stage wins at the Herald Sun Tour.

Now we’re not saying racing in Australia is comparable with the frozen cobbled bergs of Belgium, but success breeds success.

No Brit has ever won Paris-Roubaix, while Tom Simpson’s lone British Tour of Flanders victory was way back in 1961. Could this be the year that changes?

Away from the cobbles, meanwhile, Ben Swift was runner-up at Milan-San Remo last year having finished third two years earlier.

The 29-year-old has a new jersey on his back having joined UAE Team Emirates for 2017, and the former Team Sky man has a point to prove too.

Lizzie in Liege

It’s easy to forget now, looking back, that Lizzie Deignan (then Armitstead) enjoyed a stellar start to the 2016 season, which included victories at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Strade Bianche and Tour of Flanders.

After the controversy over her three missed drugs tests – one of which was struck from the record by CAS – Deignan’s year as world champion ended in controversy instead with the Yorkshirewoman also missing out on her target of Olympic success.

The blistering form Lizzie Deignan started 2016 in has been overshadowed, but he has a chance to reclaim the headlines at the Ardennes Classics (pic: Boels-Dolmans)

But the 28-year-old is back after an encouraging end to the year, where she finished fourth at the Worlds in Qatar and helped her Boels-Dolmans team to team time trial success.

And her target for this year, she says, is the Ardennes Classics, with a women’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Amstel Gold Race added to a programme which already included La Fleche Wallonne.

Deignan will face stiff competition over La Redoute and the Cote de Saint-Nicolas, but victory is certainly within her reach.

Fast Phil back on his throne

Philippe Gilbert is the first to admit he is overdue another big Classics victory, but a move to QuickStep Floors is probably the best thing he could have done to address that.

The 34-year-old looked unstoppable back in 2011, when he won all three Ardennes Classics and followed that up with the world title the following year.

Philippe Gilber has joined QuickStep Floors for 2017, and will race the Spring Classics as Belgian champion (pic – BrakeThrough Media)

Since then, however, victories have been much harder to come by – but with the Belgian champion’s jersey on his back, big things will be expected from his home fans this spring.

QuickStep are blessed with phenomenal Classics talent, from Tom Boonen on the cobbles to Dan Martin and Julian Alaphilippe in the Ardennes.

Now, however, they can also add Gilbert to their arsenal and the Belgian undoubtedly has a huge role to play this spring.

Belgian fans will expect a big performance from the man in the black, yellow and red jersey – and Gilbert will be keen to deliver.

New stars born

While we’re harking for a return to glory for some of recent history’s Classics Kings, there are also plenty of new faces knocking on the door for success of their own too.

Fernando Gaviria left last year’s Milan-San Remo in tears after a late crash cost him his chance of victory, but the Colombian will be back stronger than before this year.

Fernando Gaviria is among the favourites for Milan-San Remo (pic: Sirotti)

The 22-year-old Colombian – who bagged two stage wins at the Tour de San Juan, is currently second favourite behind Sagan for the season’s first Monument.

On the cobbles, meanwhile, Tiejs Benoot can no longer hope to slip under the radar, meanwhile, with Lotto-Soudal’s 22-year-old Belgian having been a podium finisher at last year’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, following fifth place at the Tour of Flanders the previous years.

Benoot is still looking for his first pro win, but he claimed the white jersey of best young rider at the Volta ao Algarve to prove his form going into the Classics.

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