The revival continues
This beautiful bike race, the third oldest stage race (after the Tour and Giro) looks to be slowly moving from death's door which is a reason for all fans of pro cycling to rejoice. Briefly its history has been this: for the longest time it was a major pre-Tour prep stage race. Then it got moved to opposite the Giro, which slowly strangled its popularity. Last year, a small shuffling of the early season stage races saw Catalunya land a spot after Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico (and MSR) which was formerly occupied by the smaller Vuelta Castilla y Leon. This move, to my mind was/is a great move for the Catalan race, one that could bring it back as a major week-long stage race on the World Tour calendar. This year for the first time in who knows how long, the race is being televised, and like last year the rider start list is Grade A in quality. We'll get to the riders in a bit but first let's look at the course.
The course and stages
Pretty simple really: really, really hilly. (Go here for stage profiles at the website and here for Cyclingfever's profiles and descriptions.) Not a week for either a) sprinters, especially sprinters who can't climb, or b) chrono specialists since there is no time trial stage. Even though there is only one uphill finish, the Queen stage 3, getting to the finish line on every stage except maybe stage 6 is gonna require a great deal of desire to go uphill a bunch shortly before the end.
But notice that I say "hilly" rather than "mountainous". Stage 3 is mountainous since it ends with the second of our first HC cat mountains of the year and promises to be pretty epic. (So if you can only see just one stage, tune in Wednesday.) . The other stages are not so climby, topping out below 1000 meters in most cases. But those stages have that traditional nasty Spanish climb shortly before the end followed by a Sam San special screaming downhill to the finish line. No worries! Frank Schleck won't be riding! Let's see who is riding and what's at stake for them below the jump.
The riders that will make this race
We're talking GC riders here with this race being the first race that gathers most of them in one place. This being though before any of the Grand Tours, depending on the rider, you got different agendas, different goals. Let's look at some of them.
Bradley Wiggins. I'll be real interested in how Brad approaches this race. I hope he takes it seriously because it poses a challenge with no time trials for him to lean on: can he climb with the serious goats? Can he win a stage race without one or two healthy time trials? Is he Big Mig lite or what? Given that he's all excited after his Paris-Nice win, will he continue to work hard or will he ease off a bit like he did last year when he just bided his time between Paris-Nice and Dauphine (including "racing" Paris-Roubaix- hahaha). If that's the case then it could be that we see his teammate Big Rig Uran doing the contesting for the overall.
Alejandro Valverde. The favorite, basically. You know he's going for the win so everyone else gets measured on how they do against him. Which brings us to...
Cadel Evans, Ivan Basso, Dennis Menchov, Levi Leipheimer aka The Old Farts. The first three here had inauspicious races at P-N or T-A while Nugget started well but then crashed (again) outs of contention on the penultimate stage. Now these guys know their bodies and know how to prep for the bigger races down the line, but none of them must be feeling very good heading into this race so look for at least one of them to do some serious contending. Maybe all of 'em. Now if these guys are the old farts looking to get their stage racing season on track, we have to also mention the Young Fart.
Andy Schleck. No bro next to him this week and I wonder how much that's Johan Bruyneel's doing? Unlike Andy, Johan has a lot if interest in winning these week long stage races and I'm sure he's trying to impress the importance of doing so to Andy. And, again, with no time trials here, seems like this could be a race to get Andy up to speed. Speaking of getting up to speed..
Saxo Bank sure needs to do that. They got Navarro, CA Sorensen, and The Kid Rafael Majka all here. In other words they are all in which they have to be if they are to get any Pro Tour points this year. Really, they need someone to perform this week or they are officially Totally Screwed. Desperation time folks. Someone who isn't gonna be so desperate but who we hope will bring his A-game this week is...
Samuel Sanchez. Hopefully he will be aiming to do so on these tasty downhills.
Other GC guys: Bobo Gesink of the Rabo Family of Potentially Serious GC Contenders is here (as well as Lulu). So is Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Janez Brajkovic, David Moncoutie, David De La Fuente, Thomas De Gendt, The Little Prince, Daniel Martin, Tom Danielson, Ryder Hesjedal, Arnold Jeannesson, Mikel Nieve, Teejay Van Garderen, Nick The Roche, and Andrey Kash-Is-King. See I told ya that this has a bunch of GC guys!
A word on the sprinters: JJ Haedo (See? Saxo is bringing the house, or hovel to this race.Whatever.) Van Hummel, Hooter, Gavazzi, Alan Davis and a few others. Non-cobbley guys. All this means that the vest sprinter is Valverde.
A final word on the week that is to come
This is truly an amazing week of racing; in many ways the equal of any other week and yeah, I'm including the last week of the Tour, Holy Week, Ardennes week and what have you. What this week has going for it is the following slate of races all of which happen when Catalunya is happening:
- 19-25th Catalunya
- 20-24th Settimana Ciclistica Internazionale, an Italian B-grade stage race featuring-yes! the return of Jon Tiernan-Locke!
- 21st Dwars door Vlaanderen- Cobbles get serious
- 23rd E3 Prijs- Cobbles get REAL serious
- 24-25th Criterium International- aka Jens! Invite. Anyone who's not at Catalunya or Pinto: Anton, Froome, etc.
- 25th Gent-Wevelgem-both men's and women's Cobbles are off the hook serious
- 25th Trofeo Alfredo Binda- Vos plus friends looking at her backside AS SHE WINS AGAIN YOU PERVERTS.