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The cobbles are here. Let the proper racing commence!!

There was a time when you'd get to this stage of the season,on the eve of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and think 'finally,the season is about to begin'. Of course, this may be an old fashioned view now but it used to be the case that any racing in Jan and feb was largely done by overweight and under trained pros who were easing there way back into the season. Just ask that famout pie eater Jan Ullrich.

That's no longer the case of course. The effort the Etixx-Quick Step team went to animate races in the desert highlights a dedication to get some practice in ahead of the spring classics. Winds are winds after all, wherever you are. They may be blowing sand in Feb, but substitue that for sleet in March and the team that can master the crosswinds will have some success come Flanders.

Even the early stage races take on a different hue today. There was a time when Paris-Nice used to be the first multi-day event of much significance but no one can doubt that this years Froome-Contador tussle began in earnest on the slopes of Hazallanas. Despite both protaganists claiming they were way off peak form and not bothered about the result, that was clearly a load of rubbish as they tore lumps out of each other on stage 3 and 4 of the Ruta del Sol. This was no phony war - two lean, mean 'killing machines' who took a battle each and in the process destroyed the rest of the field. Not sure who's going to win but it was a hell of a start to a war of attrition.

Having said all that, and with the best part of 70 days racing done it still does feel like the season is about to begin. I mean, who really cares about the Tour of Oman, Qatar or Down Under(Rafael Valls, Geraint Thomas and others may disagree here!). Not the Sheep anyway. We want the mud and rain of Northern Europe. We want winds that whip off the North Sea and contains sleet. We want beer, frites and COBBLES. We want mad Belgian fans who treat the riders like rock stars. We want all this because there's real history in these races and on these roads. Our heroes fought like dogs in these races and became cycling gods. This is the essence of cycling - harsh weather, tough parcours and hard as nails riders who defy the odds and deliver.

Call us old fashioned if you like but we don't care - the season really starts now.