This year's Classics campaign provided plenty of thrills and a healthy dose of surprises. Taking a closer look at some of the top performances in the 2016 Classics, Cyclingnews has put together an ideal squad for the sport's most legendary one-day races.
The only rider to win more than one of the major spring one-days in 2016, Peter Sagan graduated from Classics heir apparent to cycling's man to beat on the cobblestones this year. With the monkey of winning a big one-day already off his back after the 2015 World Championships, Sagan delivered in a major way this spring.
Runner-up rides in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and E3 Harelbeke had some worried that it might be another year of near misses on the cobblestones for the reigning world champ, but Sagan was not about to let another Classics campaign go by without a monumental victory. After taking Gent-Wevelgem with his speedy finishing kick, he proved unstoppable at the Tour of Flanders. He kept himself at the head of the race as numerous attacks whittled down the field before getting clear with Sep Vanmarcke and Michael Kwiatkowski—and then soloed away on the Paterberg. After years of close calls in the Monuments, this time, Sagan was not to be denied his big win.
One of the sport's most versatile riders, Sagan is the ideal leader for a Classics squad, capable of sprinting or soloing for big victories on almost any terrain.
Vanmarcke has proven a worthy solo team leader with countless podiums in the Classics, but given his riding style, he might be more successful in a squad with multiple top talents. He has proven in World Championships with stacked Belgian squads that his ego isn't too big for shared leadership, either. Plus, in the crashfest that is the cobbled Classics (particularly in Roubaix, where Sagan has never been quite as strong a contender), having two leaders is never a bad idea.
Rivals would surely be less interested in chasing down long-range attacks like the ones Vanmarcke was launching constantly all spring with a strong sprinter and proven winner lurking behind. Allied with another top contender, Vanmarcke's efforts might finally bear fruit.
Rowe showed off the skillset of the ideal lieutenant with a great run at the Classics this season. He put his big engine on display making late race selections left and right throughout the spring, visible at one point or another in practically every northern classic on the calendar.
Like a true super domestique, he worked hard to close gaps as the action was heating up in Roubaix, hit the deck hard, got up, and kept racing to a top 15 result, with teammate Ian Stannard scoring a podium. And when the team needed him to step up for himself, in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Flanders, he delivered top 5s there too. Rowe was a big part of a solid Sky Classics campaign this year.
Trek could hardly have asked more from Stuyven this spring. The youngster was constantly initiating or chasing down moves throughout the Classics. He softened up the field for team leader Fabian Cancellara with aggressive riding in Flanders and Roubaix, and he marked chasing attempts in Strade Bianche to help guarantee Cancellara the victory there.
On the other hand, with Cancellara skipping Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Stuyven did his best Spartacus impression with a brilliant late attack to steal victory from the sprinters. Sporting a sizable engine and having proven willing to follow or to lead, the up-and-coming Belgian would be a valuable asset for any Spring roster.
Few riders made strides quite as lengthy as Erviti in the Classics this year. With not a single a WorldTour one-day top 10 on his palmares prior to this spring, the Spaniard delivered two of them back-to-back in Flanders and Roubaix with savvy breakaway hunting and the staying power to hold on after the moves were caught.
Extremely experienced (he's ridden Flanders and Roubaix more than 10 times), aggressive, and unassuming to boot, he's just the sort of rider you'd want to send up the road early in a big race.
Peter Sagan may be one of cycling's best solo artists, but surely his team deserves at least a little credit for putting him into position to snag wins. The nature of domestique work means support riders never quite get the credit they deserve, and this season in particular some of the well-known Classics lieutenants rode relatively quiet races, making this spot even harder to fill. Pavel Brutt, however, more than earned his place among the eight.
Brutt rode nearly all of the spring Classics (including all three Ardennes races) and the Tour of Lombardy too, proving capable of playing a role all over the one-day map. He was in breakaway moves in Gent-Wevelgem – which Sagan won – and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. A loyal worker with the power to put the hammer down for long periods of time, Brutt makes a worthy domestique who has ridden well for this team's leader in the past.
Poels had shown off plenty of ability as a domestique in prior years, but given a chance to ride for himself this spring, he excelled. A terrific climber with more than a little explosiveness and a healthy dose of racing savvy, the Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner has just the sort of skillset to thrive in the climber-friendly classics.
Plus, as an experienced domestique for Chris Froome, he's a consummate team player, and probably wouldn't mind that the rest of this eight-man squad is a bit more focused on the cobblestones than it is the hills of the Ardennes forest.
Valverde did not defend his Liège title this April, but he was at least in the mix late in the race there, in Strade Bianche, Milan-San Remo, and Lombardy in addition to dominating the finale of La Flèche Wallonne. That's Valverde in a nutshell, always around at the pointy end on just about any type of parcours.
There's still plenty left in the tank for the decorated Spaniard, whose fast finish is a nice complement to Poels' power in the climber's Classics. The veteran presence of the well-rounded 36-year-old would make any team stronger, not to mention providing the squad with another bona fide contender for practically every race on the calendar.
Now it's your turn. List out your top 8-man teams in the comments below and we'll pick the best!