One For The Thumb !
Besides the hot Belgian action this weekend there's this other race in the Ardennes of France that's happening this weekend too: The Jens! Invite aka Criterium International. You know the basic scheme:
1) Saturday there's your basic sprinter's stage though last year Laurens Ten Dam managed to stay away on the break. Barely- he won by 10 seconds over the pack- but he did stay away. There are three climbs on this stage that does make that break possible.
2A) Sunday is a twofer. The morning is the "Mountain" stage, a short 98.5 km romp in the Ardennes with nine Ardennes-type climbs- eight Cotes and one Col. One of the early climbs is of the 9% range- and it reappears near the end too. This is where Jens! should launch himself.
2B) Sunday afternoon gives us an 8.3 km ITT that will give us the final selection. Pretty flat but kinda twisty. Last year in the rain the riders were Very Careful on their bikes. That's it- a very functional stage race that in truth is used by almost all of the riders as on-the-job training.
Except Jens! of course, who doesn't know the meaning of the word, "training."
So he keeps winning the thing. Four times, now. Can he win a fifth? Here's the startlist and it looks like Saxo Bank is very serious in helping Jens! again. Here's the final GC from last year so you can get an idea of who might be competitive here. Looking at that list, only Monfort among the top non-Saxo boys is back. Rabobank isn't here at all while Caisse d'Epargne is bringing a B team. (Somewhere in france, Oscar is feeling... depressed right now.) Looking further at the startlist, I could see Garmin, Columbia (Albasini, Monfort, Grabsch), Astana (Kloden and Brajkovic) and some others (Hivert? Casar? Karpets? Nocentini? Astarloza?) who might combine the TT/climby skills in enough abundance to bother Jens!.
I haven't yet seen any internet video coverage of this race. Versus TV will have a Sunday recap show though.