Big, big week this week, at least in terms of number of races and the sight of the big boys on the road, in either Spain, Italy, France or Belgium. Everybody wants to hone their form for April... to wit:
- Hons previews the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon below... and again, I ask, is there a region of Spain that doesn't have a vuelta? Castilla, Leon, Andalucia, Murcia, Burgos, Catalunya, and Pais Vasco are the ones that come to mind. Anyway, the big names here are Basso, Contador, Danielson, Sastre, Menchov, the Chicken, Backstedt, Pereiro, Karpets (winner today), Koldo Gil, and the repatriated Jose Azevedo (Benfica). Official website here, replete with the ubiquitous mod/abstract logo (does European race hire the same designer?). Anyway, the thread below identifies a live video source, so we'll throw up an open thread for each day's riding and related chat.
- The Italian version is the Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali running Tuesday through Saturday, which has an official site. More useful stuff at Cicloweb; the race starts on the northern Adriatic coast and weaves around the Emilia region, with big climbs on days two and three. Cycling Fever's startlist shows defending champ Cunego won't be there, but Paolo Bettini, Danilo DiLuca, Cadel Evans, Gibo Simoni, Alessandro Petacchi, Mick Rogers, Riccardo Ricco and unnamed Astanas (Savoldelli??) will headline.
- Criterium International runs next weekend in France near the Belgian border, over varied terrain. Saturday is for sprinters, but Sunday includes a hilly route in the morning and an 8km flat ITT in the afternoon. Big names are Kloden, Vino, Valverde, Chavanel, Cunego, Julich, Schleck, Voigt... and the Slipstream boys! Nice baptism for them. Versus is doing two hours on the race next Sunday.
- Meanwhile, racing returns to the Cobbles for the uninterrupted runup to Spring Monument season. On Wednesday, it's Dwars door Vlaanderen ("straight across Flanders"), which the official site confirms is an unmappable meander across Flanders... but it uses roads from De Ronde, so it's great training. Quick Step will be out in major force, with Boonen, Van Petegem, Steegmans and de Jongh controlling matters. Defending champ Veuchelen, McEwen, Steels, Devolder, Paolini, O'Grady, Thor, Nuyens, Wesemann, Graeme Brown and Baden Cook to spar with them.
- Lastly, probably the headliner is the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen, named after the E3 motorway whose construction was a big deal 50 years ago. Now the race is the pre-Flanders test; here's the list of hills which explains the race's significance, and why Boonen has won the last three years. Coverage on Cycling.TV. Here's the startlist; big names: Boonen, Bettini, Van Petegem, Steegmans, Hoste, Steels, O'Grady, Cancellara, Wegmann, Klier, Ballan, Bennati, Paolini, Zabel, Boogerd, Flecha, Devolder, Casper, Thor, and so on. Serious stuff! We will be live for that one.