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2008 Spring Classics
February 24: Geelong Women's World Cup
The beginning of the new women's World Cup season in Australia saw a fresh face atop the podium in Geelong. American Katheryn Curi Mattis gave her Webcor team its biggest win yet and became only the second U.S. woman to win a World Cup. Australian Emma Rickards, Mattis' breakaway companion, took second with the field more than a minute back led home by Ina Teutenberg.
March 22: Milano-Sanremo
The first of the spring classics, the longest one-day race of the season and the race every Italian wants to win, Milan-Sanremo marks the moment when the racing season goes into overdrive after the 'serious warm-ups' of Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico. A new climb, le Mànie, was added due to a landslide and a temporary road closure near Noli, about 100km from the finish, making the race even longer at 298 km.
This year the Italians were foiled once more as CSC's Fabian Cancellara rode away from the winning move of around 15 riders that was formed on the Poggio. The Swiss rider soloed into Sanremo after launching a powerful surge with 2km to go, and Italian Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) had to be content with second. Belgian Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) rounded out the podium.
March 24: Trofeo Alfredo Binda - Women's World Cup #2
The women's World Cup has a new round this year, this one in Italy for the Trofeo Alfredo Binda. Last year a 1.1-ranked event, the new World Cup is worthy of the title by merit of its 120 kilometre long parcours which is punctuated by seven climbs.
British climber Emma Pooley (Specialized Designs for Women) took her biggest ever victory in the inaugural World Cup edition of the Italian race. She attacked with Priska Doppmann (Cervelo-Lifeforce Pro Cycling) and Miho Oki (Menikini-Selle Italia) with around 40km to go and continued alone when her companions dropped back to an unresponsive peloton containing most of the favourites of the day. She managed to build up a lead of up to two minutes forty-five seconds which the chase managed to reduce by the end, but in truth the twenty-five year old never looked like being caught.
April 6: Ronde van Vlaanderen/Tour of Flanders
The 92nd Ronde van Vlaanderen marks the first of the 2008 cobbled Classics deep in the heart of the cycling-crazy Flanders region of Belgium. It's every Belgian cyclist's dream to win the Tour of Flanders, and Quick Step's Tom Boonen was eager to add a third title to his palmarès.
But the crafty squad had another trick up its sleeve: Belgian champion Stijn Devolder. He attacked like a rabid badger, forming the main selection with all the favourites before going solo with 25 kilometres to go and never looking back. With Boonen tucked in the group behind, he could pour his heart into the move, and he did – taking his first Classic in the process. His compatriot Nick Nuyens (Cofidis) took second ahead of Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank).
April 6: Women's Ronde van Vlaanderen
German former world champion Judith Arndt (Team High Road) has won the fifth Ronde Van Vlaanderen in a two-up sprint from American Kristin Armstrong (Cervelo Lifeforce Pro Cycling Team). The pair arrived at the finishing line together, but the former world time trial champion was no match for the German veteran, and Arndt crossed the line two bike lengths clear. In a race dominated by the High Road and Cervelo Lifeforce teams, it was no surprise that a rider from each team would end up contesting the final victory.
The sprint for third was taken by Omloop Het Volk winner Kristen Wild (AA Drink Cycling Team) from Arndt's team-mate Oenone Wood and newly crowned world points race champion Marianne Vos (DSB Bank). They led home a group of fourteen riders that included defending champion Nicole Cooke (Halfords Bikehut) and world champion Marta Bastianelli (Italian National Team) twenty-one seconds behind the leading pair.
April 9: Gent-Wevelgem
The mid-week Gent-Wevelgem normally serves as a tune-up for Paris-Roubaix as well as a chance for the sprinters to feature in the Belgian Classics, but last year's race ruined the early season for a number of riders when two mass pile-ups on the descent from the Kemmel sent numerous riders to the medics.
This year the race was made safer with a small course change, and a large group came to the finish to contest the sprint. It was Spaniard Oscar 'the cat' Freire who proved fastest, getting revenge for his third in 2007 and giving his Rabobank team its first victory of this Classics season.
April 13: Paris-Roubaix
It's every professional's dream to win the 'Hell of the North' – an epic battle against endless cobbled sectors, winds, crashes, flat tyres – basically 259 km of pure suffering of the highest magnitude. Last year, an Australian was the man with the strength and audacity to ride away from the peloton and into the Roubaix velodrome alone - Stuart O'Grady.
This year, Belgian Tom Boonen was under immense pressure to deliver for his Quick Step team after being shut out in the earlier Classics, and deliver he did! Putting his skills on the cobbles and his strength in the sprint to good use, 'Tommeke' dismantled fellow breakaway companions Fabian Cancellara and Alessandro Ballan to hoist the coveted cobble for the second time in his career.
April 20: Amstel Gold Race
The youngest of the Spring Classics might not have the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix, or the severity of the climbs of Ronde van Vlaanderen, but this 250+ kilometre race has the distance, more than 30 'bergs' and a leg-breaking uphill finish atop the Cauberg to distinguish it from the older Classics.
Damiano Cunego won the 43rd edition in a nine-man sprint towards the top of the Cauberg. He held off Fränk Schleck and Alejandro Valverde in his first participation in the Amstel Gold Race and went on to claim his first-ever victory in a Spring Classic.
April 23: La Flèche Wallonne/Women's La Flèche Wallonne
As the Classics season winds down, the riders move into the French speaking part of Belgium to tackle La Flèche Wallonne – a demanding circuit centred around the Mur de Huy – a beastly climb 1300m in length with a maximum 19% gradient which the riders visit three times. The climb requires patience and a strong finishing kick – something that both Davide Rebellin and Marianne Vos displayed in this year's edition of the race.
Luxembourg's Kim Kirchen played the waiting game to perfection and came up golden as he topped the Mur de Huy while the early attackers faded. He moved clear with 175 metres remaining to win ahead of Australian Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) and Italian Damiano Cunego (Lampre).
April 27: Liège-Bastogne-Liège
The last of the Ardennes Classics sends the riders through the site of World War II's Battle of the Bulge, and in the cycling world, the racers will wage battle with a ridiculous number of climbs, many of them littered in the final 40 kilometres. But it is the 1.5 kilometre ascent to the finish line in Ans which decides the victor, and only a well-timed sprint will win the last of the Spring Classics.
Alejandro Valverde hit back after last year's disappoint with Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) and Fränk Schleck (Team CSC) left wondering what could have been. He added a third Ardennes Classic to his already rich palmarès by waiting until the final 200 metres to swing by his two escape companions.