The Spring Classics Heavy Hitters For 2014

Cancallara_Sagan_Flanders 2013
by Barnaby CHESTERMAN

PARIS, April 04, 2014 (AFP) – With the main Spring Classics races due to
begin on Sunday with the Tour of Flanders, AFP takes a look at the main
contenders.

Fabian Cancellara (SUI)
Twice in the last four years the 33-year-old Swiss time-trial and classics
expert has done the Tour of Flanders-Paris-Roubaix double and he will rightly
be considered the favourite once again. The only thing that might hamper
Cancellara’s chances seems to be how closely he is marked by the rest of the
field, or whether he and Tom Boonen cancel each other out. But with three
victories in Paris-Roubaix, two in De Ronde (Flanders) and one at Milan-San
Remo, Cancellara has a hugely impressive record in these races. He also
finished second three times and third once at Milan-San Remo, and second twice
on Paris-Roubaix. If there is one certainty in cycling it is that Cancellara
will be there or thereabouts when the victory is decided. He was second behind
Alexander Kristoff at Milan-San Remo last month but only ninth at E3
Harelbeke, which he has won three times, last Friday which perhaps suggests he
is less a favourite than previous years.

Peter Sagan (SVK)
Although not quite the one-day specialist that Cancellara or Boonen are,
Sagan’s all-round racing ability and current form suggests he is the one to
watch this time around. Last year the 24-year-old came into the two Northern
Cobbled Classics as the clear favourite having triumphed at Gent-Wevelgem and
taken second at both Milan-San Remo and E3 Harelbeke. But a second placed
finish at Flanders was all he managed. This time there will be fewer eyes on
the Slovak who finished only 10th at last month’s Milan-San Remo, although his
win at E3 Harelbeke and third-placed finish at Gent-Wevelgem, not to mention
an ‘accidental’ win on Tuesday’s first stage of the Three Days of De Panne
(before withdrawing early on Wednesday’s second stage) shows he has the legs
in the finale to do damage. Already twice a winner of the Tour de France green
points jersey and tipped to one day compete for overall Grand Tour victories,
Sagan is yet to triumph in one of the ‘Monuments’ and will desperately hope to
end that record at either Flanders of Roubaix.

Tom Boonen (BEL)
The only man with a better classics record than Cancellara, Boonen is a
true legend of these races. Four times a winner in Roubaix, three times at
Flanders, like Cancellara the 33-year-old has twice done the cobbled double.
But this is no longer the all-conquering Boonen of two years ago when he did
the Gent-Wevelgem-E3 Harelbeke double before coming into the Northern Classics
and adding the Flanders-Roubaix double as well. He was the first person ever
to achieve that feat but his 2013 campaign was ruined by a broken hip. He was
11th at E3 Harelbeke and improved to finish fifth at Gent-Wevelgem, although
he insisted he would have won it by several bike lengths had he not been
blocked in the final sprint. The next two races will show whether or not
Boonen really can recapture his form of 2012.

John Degenkolb (GER)
He may not be a one-day specialist but in winning Gent-Wevelgem, Degenkolb
proved that if he can stick with the pace right the way to the end, then he
has the power in a sprint to upset the favourites. Flanders and Roubaix might
be beyond him but he could feature in the Ardennes Classics which have a
slightly weaker field. The German announced himself to the world with five
stage wins at the Tour of Spain in 2012, the same year he finished fifth in
Milan-San Remo and sixth at E3 Harelbeke. And should any of these races come
down to a bunch sprint, 25-year-old Degenkolb will suddenly rise up the
favourites rankings.

Niki Terpstra (NED)
A lot has been expected of the Dutchman these last few years and this could
finally be the season he delivers following overall victory at the Tour of
Oman, a win at Dwars door Vlaanderen and second place at E3 Harelbeke. What’s
more, the 29-year-old will be the main foil for team-mate Boonen and likely
try to get himself in a breakaway up the road. In the last 18 editions of
Flanders and Roubaix since 2005, only three have not be won by Cancellara,
Boonen or one of their team-mates. So either Terpstra or Cancellara’s
team-mate Stijn Devolder — winner of Flanders in 2008 and 2009 — would be
good bets to be in the reckoning if their team-mates are marked out of it.

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