Belgium nears worst Classics crisis since 1945

Belgium is one race away from having its worst Classics season since 1945, with no Classic or semi-Classic wins for the host nation of most of the spring’s top one-day races.

Belgium did not win any of the top seven Classics in either 2007 or 1997, but it won at least one semi-Classic. In 2007, Tom Boonen took E3 Harelbeke and Dwars Door Vlaanderen, whilst in 1997, Hendrik Van Dijk won E3, Johan Museeuw won Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and Peter Van Petegem took Het Volk. This year, though, with the honourable exception of the GP Pino Cerami taken by Jonas Van Genechten (Lotto-Bellisol), Belgium is heading towards its biggest dearth of top results since World War II.

“For the Belgians this spring is heading slowly towards disaster,” Belgian newspaper La Derniere Heure solemnly warned in its sports editorial on Thursday. And indeed, only a Belgian victory in Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday can now end an unheralded run of poor results for the local riders.

Brabantse Pijl, curiously enough, is the race which has often ‘saved the day’ for the Belgians in terms of local victories. From 1967 to 1984, the one-day hilly Classic had an unbroken run of local winners, from Paris-Roubaix winner Roger Rosiers to Ronny Van Holen. Adrie Van Der Poel then broke the Belgians’ near 20-year stranglehold on the Brabantse Pijl in 1985.

This year, however, a combination of factors has made it far tougher for the home nation. Tom Boonen’s crash in the Tour of Flanders was one, given his run of four successive wins from E-3 to Paris-Roubaix last year. The rise of Peter Sagan (Cannondale) is another, and the return of Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack) to top condition has had a major knock-on effect. So too has Philippe Gilbert’s string of near-misses in the Ardennes Classics, a series he dominated in 2011 as strongly as Boonen did the cobbled Classics of 2012.

Spain’s increasing Classics success, with Dani Moreno’s win the fourth for Spain in the Fleche Wallone since Igor Astarloa broke that country’s ‘duck’ in the Ardennes Classics in 2003, is also clear, while riders from other nations like Great Britain, the USA, the Czech Republic and Colombia are also making their presence known.

Belgian can perhaps take some sort of consolation from the fact that they are not the only nation with a huge Classics tradition fallen on hard times in recent years. Italy has not had a win in a major Monument since Damiano Cunego claimed the Tour of Lombardy in 2008.

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.