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One-day classics are revered for their unpredictability and ‘anything can happen’ kind of racing. But with Boels-Dolmans and Deceuninck-Quick Step romping to victory in all but one of the season-opening classics races, it seems as though their shared bike sponsor, Specialized, have happened across a winning formula to these traditionally ‘unpredictable’ races.
Specialized going solo
Opening weekend refers to the two one-day classic races, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, that are usually held during the first weekend of March. These two races mark the start of classics season and to snatch a win in just one of them is considered a season-defining, even career-defining achievement.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the hillier of the two, came first and saw two Specialized-sponsored riders take the top spot. Both Chantal Blaak of Boels-Dolmans and Zdenek Stybar of Deceuninck-Quick Step won their respective races after fierce solo attacks.
Blaak won her race by an impressive margin of 1’09”, laying waste to the peloton behind as she attacked on the infamous Muur van Geraardsbergen with 16km still left to race. A disordered chase behind meant that she soon forged a winning gap, besting the likes of European Champion, Marta Bastianelli, and 2018 Women’s WorldTour winner, Annemiek van Vleuten.
Stybar executed his attack a little later, sprinting away from a group containing Greg Van Avermaet and Tim Wellens in the final 2km of the race. The attack was timed to absolute perfection, netting Stybar the first major cobbled classic victory of his career.
Just a day later, in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Quick Step were back in the limelight again, this time with the Luxembourg national champion, Bob Jungels. Renowned for his stage racing prowess and ability in the Ardennes, not many expected Jungels to excel on the cobblestones surrounding Kuurne, especially after himself confessing that he still had a lot to learn.
He soon proved the doubters wrong however, escaping from his breakaway compatriots with over 16km still left to race. He quickly settled into his trademark TT position and sent it full gas all the way to the finish as the peloton frantically tried to chase him down. He took the win by a margin of 12 seconds over the chasing group, notching up another classic victory to add to his growing palmarès.
Later in the week, the men’s and women’s peloton headed to Le Samyn, a quirky mid-week cobbled classic that’s characterised by horrendous downpours and biting winds. Specialized came up trumps yet again with Florian Senechal (Deceuninck-Quick Step) and Jip van den Bos (Boels-Dolmans), who usually work in support of others, getting their chance to taste victory and proving their respective teams’ immense strength in depth.
Super Strade for Specialized
One of the few Spring Classics to escape the cobblestones of Northern France and Belgium, Strade Bianche is a relatively new one-day race that has very quickly gained monumental traction in the pro peloton.
This year’s event got off to a flying start with ITT world champion, Annemiek Van Vleuten, storming to victory with an incredible solo display in the closing 20km of the dusty women’s race. Flying home in second place was Annika Langvad of Boels-Dolmans, netting yet another incredible result for Specialized in her debut season on the road.
In the men’s race, it was the French swashbuckler, Julian Alaphilippe of Deceuninck-Quick Step who claimed the win. After following a dangerous late attack from Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and Wout van Aert (Lotto-Visma), Alaphilippe sat pretty on the coattails of his fellow leaders and waited for the final uphill sprint into Siena. The tactic paid off and the Frenchman easily rounded Fuglsang in the sprint for the line.
Breaking the ‘unpredictable’ formula
Winning just one big classic may be enough to make a bike manufacturer’s year, but for giants like Specialized, winning these races are almost expected. How exactly do they win these ‘unpredictable’ races with such incredible consistency?
Well, it all comes down to their Tarmacs, a versatile, ‘do-anything’ kind of road bike which channels decades of research into a proven, race-winning design. Whether in its cobble-ready disc-equipped, or ultralight and zippy variant, the Tarmac just screams speed.