First off, it's impossible not to talk about the Coronavirus - it's changed a lot of things. We've already seen much of the Classics cancelled, and that's a huge blow for us. Obviously, for our sponsors, riders and staff we want to be at these races because that's why we're here.
ROD ELLINGWORTH'S GUIDE TO THE CLASSICS
While racing may not be filling our weekends, the history, tradition and feats that encapsulate the Classics still captivate the minds of riders around the world. We caught up with Team Bahrain McLaren's Principal to get his take on these races, and what their cancellation means to cycling.
As a fan, it's a shame to see these races disappear but, simultaneously, you can't argue with the thinking. It's a serious situation, and it touches fundamentals of how many businesses function.
In Pro Cycling we're blessed that our calendar takes us around the world - but in this instance, it means the operation of several events is at jeopardy. Whether it's riders stuck in isolation at the UAE tour, mechanics movements getting restricted by their governments or event bans, each element is a critical link in the chain, and how we do things.
As racers, we're desperate to give it our best and take on the remaining Classics races, but ultimately tough decisions need to be made. We expect race organisers and governing bodies to make the right decisions that protect our team and the public.
What makes the Classics unique is that you can't rectify your mistakes over several days - make an error in the Classics and you're pretty much done. The time of the year and race length also goes into making the classics a brutal race for any rider.
The real challenge is the roads. The cobbled climbs and Death Alley - the massive gap in the middle of Belgium's concrete slabbed roads. Add in the odd patch of grass, the uneven surface between bike lanes and pavements, and even just the severity of bends - you really do have to know the course. It means the Classics demand bike handling ability because it's off the scale what riders have to do - this is what makes the races a spectacle.
First and foremost, riders have to love the classics to do well in them. If you don’t love it, if you don’t want to do it, then there’s no way you’d ever put yourself through it. It takes a certain mentality. All riders know on the start line that any number of people are going to be carried off in the meat wagon rather than getting to the finish line - it’s pretty brutal. The riders have to love the risk and get a thrill out of it.
You'll rarely put a GC rider through the Classics - it's not their territory, and they'll rarely do well. The days of big GC names taking wins on one day races is gone. The benefit of Classics riders though, is that they can support GC ambitions. However, it's a balance; in your team, you probably want 9 or 10 guys minimum who can take on these one-day races. The best of them can do a lot of work in Grand Tours - on the flats, in crosswinds and on tempo to support the GC guys.
To be dominant at the Classics is a case of upping that proportion of your team - at Team Bahrain McLaren, we have a 50/50 split. We have a good mix of riders but also we're not hiding away from the fact that our aim is to win the Tour. If you're serious about this goal, you've got to specialise and prioritise to a certain extent. You can still have a successful Classics campaign with that GC focus; it's just a more complex formula to get right.
As a Team Principal, every day there's a risk in cycling. You try and calculate those risks throughout the season, but the Classics do sit up there as high-risk races. When you're planning, you have to budget for one or two riders taking a fall that could potentially put them out for the season. It's simply something that has to be factored into your planning - but at the same time, the big Classics riders who make the breaks and lead those races are the guys who have the bike handling skills to keep them clear of that stuff. It's more the guys supporting that effort, or the inexperienced riders who are at risk.
The biggest mistake from campaign to campaign is just positioning in the group. If you're not in the right position, you're going nowhere. You can make one or two mistakes, but more often than not, the workload you have to do to rectify positioning errors takes their toll. Because when it comes to the final climb or the late attack, that earlier work means you might not be equal in the challenge.
The other thing is fueling. It's so intense that riders forget to fuel themselves. They're going full gas, scrambling for position at the front of the pack, or leading onto the climb and in doing so, they're not getting that gel or hydrating like they would with less going on. The chaos of it does come into it, and it's a big cause of riders stepping off their bikes.
My favourite Classics race, my favourite Classics rider - there's no question, Sean Kelly and Paris Roubaix. Kelly was my hero as a kid, and before the televised race, I'd wait for Cycling Weekly to turn up, to find out what happened at Roubaix. Riding for Kas, in the early 80s, that's when I was in my teens and thinking, I want a slice of this…
From the early season, our GC guys are showing good form. If you'd told me in October last year that we'd have a number of early-season wins and be showing ourselves in the thick of it, I'd have been taken back. Success gets momentum and energy into the team, which changes everything. The Team Bahrain McLaren project is about development and innovation - this is our first year in the sport, and the goal is about lifting the sport, refining process, and engineering our success. To see the impact already means there's huge promise.
We'd like to thank Rod Ellingworth for taking the time to talk to us and give us his view on these sorely missed races. If you want to support the team, you can shop our official Team Kit Collection today.