1. I'm sorry but this year the Ardennes Classics were bor-ing. Boring with a capital B. In fact, let's just make that BORING! (Ah, got that off my hairless chest, now I feel better.) Thrice in a fortnight you needed to stay up till the wee hours to watch no more than two kilometres of proper racing. Which, compared to the palpable excitement of the cobbled Classics before them, makes you feel seriously ripped off because there you got the equivalent of a 42nd Street production. The Ardennes was, from what I've been told since I've always been a good little boy, like a peep show at a strip joint Ã¢â¬â titillating, but deeply unsatisfying viewing.
2. Right across the Spring Classics, the dominance by a few has gone. Instead, and refreshingly so, it has been replaced by a spread of up to a dozen riders, sometimes more, who, on their day, can take home a Monument or something close to it. It made Flanders and Roubaix the two most exciting races we've seen this season, but alas, the same cannot be said for the Hilly Ones.
Is this equilibrium among the contenders a consequence of a cleaner peloton? I'd like to think so but can't definitively say in my best Samuel L. Jackson Pulp Fiction baritone, 'Hallelujah, praise the Lord! The recalcitrant doping demons that have long existed have been vanquished and the sport is cleansed! Go forth with optimism and confidence, my sons!'
Or something like that.
3. Those who lack the explosive finishing kicks necessary to win Amstel Gold and FlÃ¨che Wallonne, or do not possess a sprint finish like Simon Gerrans that has now placed him in the firmament of Australian cycling greats, need to show a little moreÃ¢â¬¦ er, well, balls.
His performance in De Brabantse Pijl the Wednesday prior showed what Philippe Gilbert was capable of at Amstel; that he was back in business. And based on what he successfully did two years ago at the Worlds in Valkenburg and the previous pair of Amstels he'd won we all knew he was going to do the same thing again on the Cauberg Ã¢â¬â yet only a few including Thomas Voeckler and Pieter Weening were willing to give it a proper crack, rather than wait for the inevitable.
It was the same story at FlÃ¨che. Had Gilbert's run not being interrupted by a crash two kilometres from the start of the Mur de Huy he may well have won again since he still finished tenth; instead line honours went to a guy that, because of his uphill prowess and finishing kick, must know the backsides of his peers better than they do because he habitually sits and sits and sits then pumps you in the finish.
LiÃ¨ge-Bastogne-LiÃ¨ge, although a more athletic contest than the previous two in the Ardennes, provoked a similar outcome because none of the main contenders showed their cards till the CÃ´te de La Roche-aux-Faucons with around 20km to go. Sure, the tailwind on the road back from Bastogne contributed to scenario we saw Ã¢â¬â but equally, so did the shortage of cojones by the big guns and in particular the stage racers who needed to better exploit their strengths and make life as hard as possible for Classics specialists like Gerrans, if not drop them. I was quietly hoping either one of late escapees Gianpaolo Caruso or Domenico Pozzovivo would win because other than Warren Barguil, JuliÃ¡n Arredondo and Jan Bakelants they comprised the sum total of those prepared to risk everything. Courtesy of negative tactics and a super team effort by OGE's Weening and Simon Clarke (gotta love Whitey's three-page plans, don't you, Clarkey?) the Dimpled One received a 263km armchair ride into Ans before slitting his foes' throats 200m from the line.
4. All things being equal, this year's Tour is Alberto Contador's to lose.
Everything is going to plan for El Pistolero; he is riding like a man reborn and has just one more race, the CritÃ©rium du DauphinÃ© before his first Grande Boucle appointment in Yorkshire on 5 July. The reinstatement of Tinkoff-Saxo's road captain Michael Rogers, an instrumental figure in Bradley Wiggins' 2012 victory, is another welcome boost. On the other hand his likely number one nemesis and defending Tour champ Chris Froome is experiencing a mostly forgettable season to date; Oman (need I mention that was way back in February?) the only sign that he still has what it takes. His key lieutenant and Monaco homey Richie Porte isn't doing much better, either. Their line-up at LiÃ¨ge somewhat resembled the bones of a likely Tour team but ironically only their most inexperienced, Nathan Earle, managed to finish.
I'm not sure what Tim Kerrison and Dave Brailsford's Excel spreadsheets are telling them but it's probably along the lines of 'Computer says no-oooh'.
5. Cadel Evans must be counting down the days till the Giro, because as each week rolls closer to the May 9 Grande Partenza in Belfast another of his potential adversaries falls foul of something. Only Nairo Quintana, who has lain low since his fifth place overall at Catalunya and has not raced for a month, has escaped unscathed. Joaquim RodrÃguez, the victor at Catalunya, crashed both at Amstel and FlÃ¨che; Porte chose to skip the Giro because his affinity with the porcelain bowl during Tirreno snowballed into a massive form slump; and earlier this month Vuelta champ of yesteryear Chris Horner had a dalliance with a car in training that ended like most affairs do in Lake Como and is out.
I still think his fiercest opposition will come from Quintana and J-Rod, but to make the podium Evans probably has to contend with perhaps only two others in Pozzovivo, who finished second to him at the Giro del Trentino and Daniel Martin, the Irishman still unproven when riding GC in Grand Tours and admits he has trouble riding defensively, something he needs to learn if he's to one day realise a high finish. In other words based on his current trajectory the podium's almost a given for Cadel; it now becomes a matter of which step he'll stand in Trieste when the race ends on June 1.