This week is a great, great time to be a cycling fan, particularly one who works for an organization which has shut itself down until regaining its senses (which is to say, indefinitely). Nearly each day something awesome happens, with several distinct plot threads leading up to a weekend of racing madness. And all this is on top of the Nobel Prize going to the Higgs Boson discovery team. Let's break this down by day.
Memorial Frank Vandenbroucke: Earlier today a small gathering happened for the unprecedented (?) live broadcast of Binche-Tournai-Binche, which actually subtracted Tournai, replaced it with Chimay, and put on a hell of a show. Reinhardt Janse van Rensberg did the honors with a late acceleration which put him clear of Bjorn Leukemans and Greg Van Avermaet, and onto the top step of the podium. This following a late five-man escape which nearly made it to the line, as well as plenty of other respectable efforts. Nice day of action, and even nicer to see the last-km patch of cobblestones shake up what was thought to be a sprinters' affair.
Relax, make yourself a sandwich, have a glass of milk, do some... thing.
Paris-Bourges: This is considered something of a sprinters' race, because that is what we call any race which doesn't eliminate the sprinters in advance. The truth is, it's a perfect preview of Paris-Tours, not only because it too doesn't actually start in Paris, but because it has the same relative profile of a lumpy central-France countryside romp to a possible sprint finish, if someone doesn't come up with a better plan first. The basic facts:
Frankly I can't read this thing at all, but you get the idea. Past winners include the sprinters (Hayman, Feillu, Eisel, Greipel) and the tricksters (Vachon, Voeckler, Pineau, Voigt). So yeah, lots can happen. Still, it's important to take note of the sprinters, especially in a season where they've been marginalized of late. The Vuelta chased most of them off, and only those who couldn't be excused found themselves at the World Championships, paying off some old debts with a few turns on the front of the peloton. Life as a sprinter is never easy.
More recently, though, they've gotten back to having fun, with the Tour de l'Eurometropole, the 21st century name for the Circuit Franco-Belge. There, John Degenkolb and Tyler Farrar (!) traded stage wins and jockeyed for the honor of finishing second on GC to Jens Debusschere, who got an early lead on bonuses which he never relinquished. Farrar, who recently re-upped with Garmin for a year (!!), got his second win of the season, while Degenkolb secured his third and fourth palmares. Argos-Shimano will take the start in "Paris" (a/k/a Gien) Thursday; Garmin will wait for the weekend. Arnaud Demare (FDJ) comes in as the other biggest name and watch out for a loaded Vacansoleil classics squad.
Gran Premio Città di Peccioli - Coppa Sabatini: While Paris-Bourges picks up where the Eurometropole and Memorial VDB left off, the Coppa Sabatini serves as either the warm-up or cool-down for the climbers, depending on whether they're staying on the bike through the weekend. This is truly a climbers' event -- the recent winners are guys like Duarte, Ricco (!), Ullrich (!!), Gilbert and Visconti. What you need to know about the course:
This has typically been a cool race with an exciting finish... and no live pictures. Right now RAISport2 has a delayed broadcast scheduled from 18:45-20:00 CET. So if this holds true to form, look for me to do some almost-live chat as I enjoy my federal "staycation."
The startlist is pretty loaded, B-plus-list-style. Colombians abound, with the Colombia team featuring Duarte, Chala[pud and Atapuma; Rubiano Chavez repping Androni-Giocattoli, and Winner Ancona for Lampre. But the Italians will be out for respect, led by a strong Bardiani Valvole team (former winner Battaglin, Pirazzi), the Duo of the Damned at Androni (Sella and Pellizotti), Belletti and Pozzovivo for a solid AG2R, Cunego and Ulissi at Lampre, and tbd at Astana, Cannondale and Vini Fantini.
Giro dell'Emilia: Just the loveliest race of the entire cycling calendar. How lovely? This lovely:
[Emilia photos by Sirotti]
For a few years lack of video has bedeviled our little Emilia-worshipping corner of the cycloblogosphere, but no more! RAISport2 has two-plus hours set aside (14.50-17.00) for coverage, which means we should join the broadcast just before the second major climb, well in advance of the iconic finishing circuits.
Nothing terribly new. Seven new kilometers have materialized somewhere along the course, but the business end is the same. This is a fantastic race, as long as the new calendar doesn't undermine it. Last year's proceedings were the first under the new system where the race comes after Lombardia, rather than drawing a crowd of riders looking to warm up for the Falling Leaves. And it's hard to say Emilia lost anything: Nairo Quintana dusted Kessiakoff, Pellizotti and Pozzovivo on the final climb to steal the honors.
This year's race is not exactly stacked. Movistar aren't here to defend, nor is Belkin and double-winner Robert Gesink. But there is some quality:
- Astana are back with Kessiakoff, Aru and Tiralongo
- Saxo bring Sorensen, Tosatto and Zaugg
- Lampre offer Scarponi, Ulissi and Cunego
- Belletti and Pozzovivo for AG2R
- Longo Borghini leads Cannondale
- Gatto and Rabottini lead Vini Fantini
- Colombia have their usuals; same with Androni. Scroll up.
Oh well. At least we know the guys who are coming will hold nothing back.
Paris-Tours: Easily the biggest race on this list, and one of the biggest days of the year for sprinters. Not that the race is actually flat:
The "Sprinters' Classic" actually comes to a sprint about once every three years. The good news for the sprinters is that the last two times were in 2010 and 2007. So if you like numerology, there's that. And if you don't, well... anyone at the start is a potential winner. If nothing else, this is definitely a classic.
A shortish list of potential winners would include:
- Astana: Gasparotto, Guarnieri
- Belkin: Boom, Renshaw, Vanmarcke
- BMC: Van Avermaet
- FDJ: Demare
- Garmin: Farrar, Van Summeren (hey...)
- IAM: Haussler
- Katusha: Kristoff
- Pomme Marseilles: Justin Jules
- Lotto: Debusschere, Roelandts
- Qhubeka: Ciolek
- Omega Pharma: Chava, Terpstra
- Sojasun: Hivert
- Argos: Degenkolb, Janse van Rensburg
- Europcar: Voeckler
- Vacansoleil: Marcato, Hoogerland, Feillu, van Poppel, Leukemans
Got it? See you Sunday.
GP Beghelli: Very close in style to Emilia, except for the finish, which includes a downhill and a flat run-in to the line.
The consequence of this is a winners' circle mixing climbers and all-rounders (Cunego, Pippus, Ventoso, Cataldo, Nicki Sorensen). And Alessandro Petacchi in 2008, which if I'm reading this right was out of a break. Actually this whole idea is bringing my mind to a halt, so let's just move on and acknowledge that something different from 2008 will happen this time. The startlist is similar to Emilia, but coming the next day (and the third climbers' race in four days) it'll be a bit of a question as to who has anything left in the tank. Don't look for live video, but be shocked when it happens.
Yes. Yes you do.