Fixing the Ardennes

So, after amazing racing on the cobbles, we once came down to the ground during the Ardennes week. We moan about the racing, we moan about the parcours, riders, DS's and organizers all have their thoughts about it.

There is an increasing trend toward passive racing in these races. The last 11 Ardennes classics have all rather large groups together at the foot of the final hill at 3km from the line. The last rider to win from an attack with a decent range was Roman Kreuziger, who won the AGR in 2013 after going solo from a group that attacked from far out. This trend is also happening in WC's where very often all the action is concentrated in the last lap.

The ASO has seen the lack of action at recent LBL's and decided to include a new short and steep cobbled climb very close to the finish. This didn't have the result they wanted. Racing was even more passive. An 80 group crested La Redoute together, a 40 man group crested RAF together, and after the Saint Nicolas, usually the last climb in the race, the group was still almost 30 man strong. All this without significant attacks. Finally one attack uphill was made on the new climb and they got away and were not seen again.

There is a similar thread somewhere, discussing the trends in the Grand Tour parcourses, and I think its interesting to think about what can be changed about the hilly classics.

I think it all boils down to one thing. Due to various reasons, the quality gap between team leaders and domestiques has become smaller. In a 50 man group, the team leaders have less energy than before and as a result they have to be more careful with their energy.

As a result, the hilly classics have become races of attrition. And not in a good way. We see these races be ridden at the back of the peloton, rather than at the front. Every hill the group gets a little smaller, but without anyone attacking off the front. Today you saw that happening very clearly. Riders who had done nothing all day, were super tired at the end of the day and they were crawling their way up to that cobbled climb. Last week, Tom Dumoulin accurately described the AGR as "super hard for the riders, but boring as hell for the spectators."

To make the hilly classics better, its good to take a look at the one day races that provide spectacle more often. The cobbled classics. What happens there? Riders have to make the difference from the front, not from the back. Another example are the Olympics, where the biggest teams have only 5 riders.

So in short, what I'd suggest to improve the hilly classics, would be to make the teams smaller, as has been suggested a million times before, and to make them easier, rather than harder. Make the last 20km easier, so that if the favourites want to make the difference, they'll have to do it earlier. It would also mean that outsiders risk less by going from afar, as they have smaller chances of blowing up completely.
 
Amstel Gold:

The final circuit needs to go. The climbs at Amstel Gold are different in character to the Belgian Ardennes races, they are shorter for one thing, and so few of them are able to create significant gaps in isolation. The short length of these climbs means that the gaps created by them even when attacks are made is small, and therefore unlike with Liège, the closer they are brought to the finish the more impact they will have on the race. Therefore we need to concentrate those hills that can create gaps, even if small - Eyserbosweg, Keutenberg for example - closer to the finish, because at present nobody dares move on these because you've got too long to last out. The final circuit is awful; Cauberg in and of itself is not that hard a climb, but Bemelerberg is an absolute nothing climb; no significant moves are likely to ever be made there, as it's too shallow so anybody who can create a gap there but can't create a gap on the Cauberg would be caught anyway, and anybody who can create a gap on the Cauberg will not be wasting their energy trying to create one on Bemelerberg.

Flèche: Flèche will always have the problem that its finish is too iconic to lose. The Mur de Huy is the most important Murito of the year. I actually think they've been moving in the right direction with Flèche, but the importance of the final climb is such that they've little chance of drawing major action before it. The penultimate climb being introduced close to the line to make it less of a shoot-out as riders need to ensure they're placed well before the Mur is beneficial. The biggest thing they need to do with Flèche? Stop filming the boring run-in bit from Charleroi to Huy and switch over to the women's race which doesn't get any coverage (unlike de Ronde, Omloop or Strade Bianche where they at least film the women's race to show highlights later) and saw the script being torn up and the rider who arrived at the bottom of Huy solo won the race (the nearest we've come to that in men's Flèche in recent years was Fabian Wegmann's valiant solo, and that's nearly a decade ago now), at least that will give us double the Mur de Huy action to watch.

Liège:
The late climbs are tough enough that riders are scared of them and are waiting, which means that they're riding conservatively until then, which means there are far too many domestiques left in the late going. If people make moves on Roche-aux-Faucons, there's too much respite before St-Nicolas that allows them to come back. We either need to reinstate Colonster after St-Nicolas, or move the finish away from Ans back into the city so that nobody can wait on that final uphill drag before the left hander into the finishing straight. Alternatively, from La Redoute, go over the Côte des Forges like in the old days and use a shorter final climb like the Côte de Henne or a shallower one like Colonster or the Côte de Romsée so that there isn't one climb that stands out more than any other for attacking from. Alternatively, if the riders ARE going to wait until the end to give us any action, then give them hell by sticking some steep beasts in the run-in - RAF to Embourg to La Lemmetrie would work - three severe climbs back to back. We may only get action in the last 20-30km but a) that 20-30k would take some time on the steeper gradients than at present, and b) that's still more than we've got in the last three editions of Liège.

One thing that race organizers always need to bear in mind is that if a route stays too similar too long, riders get to know it, and that always neuters attacks; if everybody knows where the best place to attack is, they'll all have the same thing in mind, so neutralize one another, and when they all want to move, it's a scramble to get to the front which either just means huge crashes, or there's a big squabble among the team leaders as the pace goes up, then they realise they haven't dropped each other, the pace slackens again while they wait for the next obstacle and the group gets bigger again. Here we had a terrible combination: the riders all know climbs like RAF well enough now that unlike in the first few editions when it was introduced, it's not as decisive because riders know how to take it in racing conditions, plus, the addition of a new climb near the finish that the riders didn't know so well (and that was likely to be slippery given the weather) made them approach racing until that point with trepidation.
 
smaller teams and more teams,more climbs - a domestique can pull for only so long,if the course is hard enough most teams will end up with maybe two guys in the final group...smaller teams also means better chance for break to stay,harder course means the strongest guy can attack 30km to go and not be afraid of 8 domestiques pulling him back...more teams means more continental teams willing to take more chances with attacks

basically create as much chaos as possible,just like ronde and PR and you have a good race
 
Perhaps change the points system to change the risk/reward ratio of attacks of 2nd tier riders. Something like only giving points to the top-5.

Not sure if that will help or that in the real world the CPA/teams would not veto such a change should it ever be brought up.
 
Imagine if the Trouee d'Arenberg was 5km from the finish in PR.

Ok, you'd have some outsiders attacking beforehand to gain an advantage going into it. But why the hell would the Boonens and Cancellaras of the world attack 60km from the finish when they could just gap everyone on the cobbles with 5k to go?

This is why it's essential to make the middle of the race harder and the finale easier
 
Re:

PremierAndrew said:
Imagine if the Trouee d'Arenberg was 5km from the finish in PR.

Ok, you'd have some outsiders attacking beforehand to gain an advantage going into it. But why the hell would the Boonens and Cancellaras of the world attack 60km from the finish when they could just gap everyone on the cobbles with 5k to go?

This is why it's essential to make the middle of the race harder and the finale easier
Problem is, that's if you do that in the Ardennes then you'd get a similar result, as long as the like of Valverde and Gerrans are still racing. Let's say you do have an easier finale after a hard middle: you'll get the worse climbers dropped in the middle as a super-strong team like Movistar or Etixx will push, then chase down attacks until the end where Valverde will win the sprint, as he is quick both on the flat and on an uphill finale. Bala won't be forced to attack, he can just tell his team set a high pace, drop the people who might be faster than him, have 3 or 4 guys to chase down attacks and win the sprint. Because he can. Same with Orica and Gerrans.

Hills are not cobbles. You have more domestiques who can go the distance in the Ardennes. Cobbles destroy all but the very best. Even without many attacks, in 2014 the final group at Paris-Roubaix had like 15 men with 20 to go. Here, you'd have 50.

Ofc, it's worth a shot. But as long as Valverde is the strongest in the world, then I'm not sure what good it will do.
 
Re: Re:

Brullnux said:
PremierAndrew said:
Imagine if the Trouee d'Arenberg was 5km from the finish in PR.

Ok, you'd have some outsiders attacking beforehand to gain an advantage going into it. But why the hell would the Boonens and Cancellaras of the world attack 60km from the finish when they could just gap everyone on the cobbles with 5k to go?

This is why it's essential to make the middle of the race harder and the finale easier
Problem is, that's if you do that in the Ardennes then you'd get a similar result, as long as the like of Valverde and Gerrans are still racing. Let's say you do have an easier finale after a hard middle: you'll get the worse climbers dropped in the middle as a super-strong team like Movistar or Etixx will push, then chase down attacks until the end where Valverde will win the sprint, as he is quick both on the flat and on an uphill finale. Bala won't be forced to attack, he can just tell his team set a high pace, drop the people who might be faster than him, have 3 or 4 guys to chase down attacks and win the sprint. Because he can. Same with Orica and Gerrans.

Hills are not cobbles. You have more domestiques who can go the distance in the Ardennes. Cobbles destroy all but the very best. Even without many attacks, in 2014 the final group at Paris-Roubaix had like 15 men with 20 to go. Here, you'd have 50.

Ofc, it's worth a shot. But as long as Valverde is the strongest in the world, then I'm not sure what good it will do.
If the finale is flat with the last climb with about 10k to go, Valverde won't be able to control everything that happens after the last climb. That's not gonna happen. Right now, everyone who attacks before the last 8k just blows up on that super tough finale.

If Valverde can't bring back everyone in the last 2k, he'd actually have to do something else than wait.
 
Feb 6, 2016
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Re: Re:

Brullnux said:
PremierAndrew said:
Imagine if the Trouee d'Arenberg was 5km from the finish in PR.

Ok, you'd have some outsiders attacking beforehand to gain an advantage going into it. But why the hell would the Boonens and Cancellaras of the world attack 60km from the finish when they could just gap everyone on the cobbles with 5k to go?

This is why it's essential to make the middle of the race harder and the finale easier
Problem is, that's if you do that in the Ardennes then you'd get a similar result, as long as the like of Valverde and Gerrans are still racing. Let's say you do have an easier finale after a hard middle: you'll get the worse climbers dropped in the middle as a super-strong team like Movistar or Etixx will push, then chase down attacks until the end where Valverde will win the sprint, as he is quick both on the flat and on an uphill finale. Bala won't be forced to attack, he can just tell his team set a high pace, drop the people who might be faster than him, have 3 or 4 guys to chase down attacks and win the sprint. Because he can. Same with Orica and Gerrans.

Hills are not cobbles. You have more domestiques who can go the distance in the Ardennes. Cobbles destroy all but the very best. Even without many attacks, in 2014 the final group at Paris-Roubaix had like 15 men with 20 to go. Here, you'd have 50.

Ofc, it's worth a shot. But as long as Valverde is the strongest in the world, then I'm not sure what good it will do.
With smaller teams and no race radio, Movistar/Etixx/Orica would struggle to set that high pace and control the race. (Also, a lot of the selection in the cobbled classics doesn't come on the cobbles but in the tight turns or the run-up to the cobbles, and the Ardennes classics have even more street furniture than the Flemish ones. If we saw a higher pace set by those teams, we would see a lot more action in the pinch points before the pivotal moments just through fighting for position, just as we do in Roubaix.)
 
Re: Re:

Red Rick said:
Brullnux said:
PremierAndrew said:
Imagine if the Trouee d'Arenberg was 5km from the finish in PR.

Ok, you'd have some outsiders attacking beforehand to gain an advantage going into it. But why the hell would the Boonens and Cancellaras of the world attack 60km from the finish when they could just gap everyone on the cobbles with 5k to go?

This is why it's essential to make the middle of the race harder and the finale easier
Problem is, that's if you do that in the Ardennes then you'd get a similar result, as long as the like of Valverde and Gerrans are still racing. Let's say you do have an easier finale after a hard middle: you'll get the worse climbers dropped in the middle as a super-strong team like Movistar or Etixx will push, then chase down attacks until the end where Valverde will win the sprint, as he is quick both on the flat and on an uphill finale. Bala won't be forced to attack, he can just tell his team set a high pace, drop the people who might be faster than him, have 3 or 4 guys to chase down attacks and win the sprint. Because he can. Same with Orica and Gerrans.

Hills are not cobbles. You have more domestiques who can go the distance in the Ardennes. Cobbles destroy all but the very best. Even without many attacks, in 2014 the final group at Paris-Roubaix had like 15 men with 20 to go. Here, you'd have 50.

Ofc, it's worth a shot. But as long as Valverde is the strongest in the world, then I'm not sure what good it will do.
If the finale is flat with the last climb with about 10k to go, Valverde won't be able to control everything that happens after the last climb. That's not gonna happen. Right now, everyone who attacks before the last 8k just blows up on that super tough finale.

If Valverde can't bring back everyone in the last 2k, he'd actually have to do something else than wait.
Follow wheels?


@Cannibal72 While there is jostling for positions, as Eurosport commentators would call it, the majority of the selection tends to happen on the cobbles, especially in Roubaix where the (asphalt) roads are wider than in Flanders.
 
Mar 13, 2015
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Re: Re:

Brullnux said:
PremierAndrew said:
Imagine if the Trouee d'Arenberg was 5km from the finish in PR.

Ok, you'd have some outsiders attacking beforehand to gain an advantage going into it. But why the hell would the Boonens and Cancellaras of the world attack 60km from the finish when they could just gap everyone on the cobbles with 5k to go?

This is why it's essential to make the middle of the race harder and the finale easier
Problem is, that's if you do that in the Ardennes then you'd get a similar result, as long as the like of Valverde and Gerrans are still racing. Let's say you do have an easier finale after a hard middle: you'll get the worse climbers dropped in the middle as a super-strong team like Movistar or Etixx will push, then chase down attacks until the end where Valverde will win the sprint, as he is quick both on the flat and on an uphill finale. Bala won't be forced to attack, he can just tell his team set a high pace, drop the people who might be faster than him, have 3 or 4 guys to chase down attacks and win the sprint. Because he can. Same with Orica and Gerrans.

Hills are not cobbles. You have more domestiques who can go the distance in the Ardennes. Cobbles destroy all but the very best. Even without many attacks, in 2014 the final group at Paris-Roubaix had like 15 men with 20 to go. Here, you'd have 50.

Ofc, it's worth a shot. But as long as Valverde is the strongest in the world, then I'm not sure what good it will do.
So it is Valverde to blame then. Well that's easy, bring the Froome's and Contador's of this world and just try to drop him ;)
 
Nothing against him, he is the strongest rider with one of the strongest teams and his best chance of winning is a) following wheels or b) waiting until the end. But when the strongest rider can afford to be conservative, or rather has a better chance by being conservative then the race will be conservative, and boring.
 
Somebody probably knows a lot more about the geographics and climbs in the areas, but I have no problem with Flèche. Liege could definitely be better and I have never, ever liked Amstel, so I dont care too much for that race. Should probably just look at mix and match the climbs better in Liege, as it is now, La Redoute and RAF is of little to no relevance. That needs to be sorted out somehow, we have some smart minds in here.

- Frontloading the WT point system in those races (and maybe for all) is the big thing for me. Self-explanatory
- Maybe reducing the teams... but that won't happen, I think.
- Radios? Im not too much into the politics and have no clue about that, but that would surely make for a better race as well
 
Feb 6, 2016
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@Cannibal72 While there is jostling for positions, as Eurosport commentators would call it, the majority of the selection tends to happen on the cobbles, especially in Roubaix where the (asphalt) roads are wider than in Flanders.
This is true, but I don't think anyone expects L-B-L to resemble Roubaix. The selection happens because of the cobbles, but a lot of it still occurs in the lead-up. A harder middle of the course would surely have a great role in thinning down the field.
 
The biggest problem with all the Ardennes classics is that the riders themselves think that there is no plausible alternative to the waiting games we are seeing year in year out in Ardennes week.

Much of this is caused by atrocious course design, which ignores the dynamics of actual racing and as a result limits the circle of possible winners in a way not befitting to the stature of those races. The last part is specially pertinent in case of LBL as it is a monument of cycling.

For LBL, Strade Bianche is a good example to follow when the placement of obstacles is concerned. The latter was also raced very conservatively this year, but still ended up as a survival of the fittest, with only the best of the best left before the final wall.

In contrast, all three Ardennes races are designed to stay together until the last climb. I have no problem with F-W being the unofficial World Championships for uphill sprinters, but AGR and LBL should offer more than that. Specially LBL as a monument. Having only one realistic way to win it, is not good enough.

Apart from race design, the big issue is team size. Teams overwhelmingly use their strenght and numbers on defesive purposes, to hold the race under control, even if they have nothing to gain from it. As a solution, teams sizes should be cut, with 6 riders per team would be plenty enough for a one day race. And i mean any one day race, not only the Ardennes.

All in all, what is needed is better parcours which offer multiple ways to victory together with smaller teams with lesser ability to control the race. There is enough terrain to play with, after all.
 

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