Don’t get me wrong, I love Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico. With Mercury in 2001, I drove the second car in the Race to the Sun when we won 3 stages with Koerts, Van Petegem, and Guidi. It’s a beautiful race covering some of France’s most beautiful roads and scenery.
However, it can’t be denied that there’s something a bit anti-climatic about the shift from the single day classics of Belgium’s opening weekend to the week-long stage races of France and Italy. Yes, they are the traditional warm-ups for Milan-San Remo. And yes, they usually contain all the protagonists for April’s northern classics. But there’s something of a palate cleansing effect to them—as if they’re simply setting the stage for bigger courses to come.
2007 marked the first change to the pattern with the inaugural Montepaschi Strade Bianche – Eroica Toscana, affectionately known as “L’Eroica”. To many, last year’s edition really put the race on the Spring map with a terrific dual between Cancellara and Ballan—two former winners of another spring race run on some rough roads. Maybe you’ve heard of it?
This year’s winner, Thomas Lövkvist, triumphed over a field sans an injured Cancellara and an ill Ballan, but he was anything but unworthy. Special props to Ryder Hesjedal for another top-10 ride. Here’s hoping he won’t become the “Hincapie” of the Tuscan Spring. (Don’t worry, George. We still believe in you!). Are there any doubts that riders are starting to take this race very seriously?