The idea of moving Paris-Roubaix or the Tour of Flanders from the traditional dates at the beginning of April would once have been deemed blasphemy. Yet the hugely-successful 2021 October edition of the Hell of the North may be repeated in the future, UCI president David Lappartient has said in an interview with Wielerlfits.nl.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Paris-Roubaix was not held in 2020 and other races were packed into the second half of the year after months of lockdown in Europe. Last season Paris-Roubaix was shifted to the first weekend in October and the wet autumn weather turned what had been a dry, fast race for decades into an epic mud-fest for the ages won by Sonny Colbrelli.
"Paris-Roubaix was always on the second Sunday in April," Lappartient said. "Last spring, however, the competition was banned by the local authorities due to the [coronavirus] situation in northern France. Out of necessity, a place on the calendar for Paris-Roubaix was found in the autumn. That move to October 3 has not made the race any less attractive," Lappartient said.
"On the contrary, this was one of the most heroic editions of 'l'Enfer du Nord' in history. I spoke about this with organizer ASO. They indicated that there would never have been any consideration before to change the Paris-Roubaix date. Now they feel very differently. In the future, that creates many more possibilities."
The Tour of Flanders was also held in mid-October in 2020 as part of a condensed calendar of rescheduled races. Although it overlapped with the Giro d'Italia, it proved to be equally successful with Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) out-sprinting Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma). It returned to its usual April date last year.
Sandwiched in between March and April, with the calendar also packed with stage races, the Classics rarely see the top Grand Tour contenders who typically prefer to target Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, the Volta a Catalunya and Itzulia Basque Country.
Tadej Pogacar's (UAE Team Emirates) appearance in the Tour of Flanders this season was deemed unusual for a Tour de France winner.
The density of the WorldTour calendar and multiple overlapping races has been problematic since the series was launched as the ProTour in 2005. The aim of the series was to ensure the top riders and teams were competing in the same events all season. Yet, Paris-Nice still overlaps with Tirreno-Adriatico, among other direct conflicts.
Lappartient, who recently met with race organisers to discuss calendar reforms, hopes to limit the overlapping races in the WorldTour. Moving the Classics to the end of the year would open up space to separate other events.
"End the season with the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix? That's something we couldn't imagine in the past. Now I ask myself: why not? Wouldn't that open up possibilities in the calendar when we organize these two, perhaps the two largest, monuments at the end of the year?"
Lappartient said the UCI has awarded licenses for the WorldTour events through 2025 but the dates are not yet fixed and the calendar is "open for discussion".
"Most organizers now understand that a change of date can also offer possibilities and opportunities," he said.
"We used to stick to certain dates because we had been planning the calendar in this way for years. How we will implement the reform is still unclear. But all parties in cycling have indicated to us that they are open to considering changes."
One thing that will not change, however, is the position of the Grand Tours on the calendar.
"It may be that a Grand Tour might be postponed one or two weeks, but broadly it will remain the same. The Tour de France will be organized in July. The Giro d'Italia will continue to take place before the Tour de France, while the Vuelta a España will have its place after the Tour.
"We will not change the frame of the calendar regarding the Grand Tours. You cannot open the season with a Grand Tour, while at the end of October you cannot close the season with it due to the weather conditions in the high mountains."
Lefevere prefers the Classics in the spring
Reaction to Lappartient's proposals came quickly from QuickStep-AlphaVinyl team manager Patrick Lefevere.
"Everyone knows I'm an old fashioned guy , so I wouldn't change it. Maybe the two Covid seasons were a bit special but if he does change things, Lappartient will have to cut the calendar first,” the veteran Belgian team manager said.
“There are so many races in August, September and the beginning of October. It is almost impossible to ride all of them. Everyone knows that the season starts more or less in January. From Omloop Het Nieuwsblad to Liège-Bastogne-Liège is the first part, then everyone works towards the Tour de France and the third part is beautiful, including the World Cup and the Tour of Lombardy.”
“I'm just happy that both races are now back in the spring," Lefevere said, citing tradition and routines.
We are used to this, we train like crazy for the winter. Everyone plans altitude training courses and all teams have been calculating for years how they can best get their riders in shape during certain periods. That requires sacrifices.”
“Once the classic period is over, I think the whole peloton will be happy that they don't have any pressure for a while. Mentally, that rest is also welcome. I think everyone is happy that these two monuments are now back in the spring.”
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Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks.
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