First, for one last time, congratulations Cadel Evans. There. I've done it. Now let us never speak of it again. What's next? Well, if it's fall, if we're talking Europe, then it must be...
The Final Countdown!!
Mostly, what's left of the calendar takes place in Italy, with a handful of French races -- including the major Paris-Tours classic -- thrown in. The Fall Season is very selective, since a large percentage of the peloton can just barely get to the end of the Worlds before shutting down for the offseason... with the exception of the rather populous subclass of cyclists known as Italian Classics studs. I am not (yet) historian enough to trace the evolution of the fall season, but the Giro di Lombardia, now in its 105th year, has long been one of the Monuments of the sport, and like Flanders, Roubaix, Milano-Sanremo and Liege, monuments need run-up races. Ditto for Paris-Tours.
But Italy is bigger than Flanders, so the pre-Lombardia races don't just re-run the Lombardia course in dribs and drabs as the Flemish classics sorta do. Rather, what you have are a series of regional races, some new and some historic and loaded with local importance. Much the same could be said of France, which is in the process of wrapping up the Coupe de France and celebrating its own regional cycling diversity, albeit with more of an emphasis on sprinting. Let's run them down, with a few nuggets of info (with more to come later):
Circuit Franco-Belge -- A 2.1 race for the sprinters run in four stages along the French-Belgian border, mostly in the direction of Wallonia. Been running more or less since 1924. Not a bad way to stay fit for Paris-Tours.
Munsterland Giro -- Not sure how they got to Italian in the name, but this three-year-old German race -- not far from France and Belgium -- is another sprinters' affair.
Memorial Cimurri -- The first of the Emilia events, a major subset of the Italian Fall Season. The region is pretty mad for cycling, even after its greatest export Marco Pantani met his sad fate. Not exactly the Dolomites, but of course like all of Italy it's hardly flat. The main climb is the Regnano climb, 430 meters of elevation gain, and the race finishes with three circuits in Reggio Emilia. The race is only four years old, but it already managed to muscle the Giro del Lazio -- the 75-year-old premier race around Roma originally slated for the next day -- off the calendar in 2009.
Tour de Vendee -- Another sprint-fest, this 35-year-old race zips around the cycling-mad Vendee region (think "Bweeg") for an afternoon.
Thursday, Oct 8
Coppa Sabatini -- The intrigue builds slowly with this Tuscan romp, a post-war event that takes riders around a lumpy circuit which ends on a 1km uphill drag. The honor roll is choc-a-block with stereotypical climber-classics guys like Bettini, Visconti, Bugno, Saronni, Fondriest, Argentin, Moser... and Jan Ullrich. Anyway, it's not for sprinters.
Paris-Bourges -- Another historic event, dating back to 1913 (and continually since 1970). If it's France, it must be a sprinters' race, right? Er, maybe. The race ends in the Massif Central, and has been won by a mix of pure sprinters (Romain Feillu) and all-rounders (Jens Voigt).
Saturday, Oct 10
Giro dell'Emilia -- Probably the third greatest of the Italian classics, after the two Monuments. This year is the centenary event, making the race only a few months younger than the Giro d'Italia... and no less decorated. Its honor roll is that of Italian cycling, minus the sprinters: Girardegno, Coppi, Bartali, DeFilippis, Moser, Bartoli, Simoni, Basso and DiLuca. Strangely, no Bettini. Anyway, the outsiders who've won here are no less exclusive a lot: Merckx, De Vlaeminck, Ullrich, Boogerd, Frank Schleck... but outsider wins are still pretty rare. We will be all over this race next week, trust me. For a sneak peek at the parcours, go here.
Sunday, Oct 11
Paris-Tours -- Begun in 1896 (!), the race's finish on the Avenue du Grammont is one of the most famous places in the sport. While considered "the Sprinters' classic," this is hardly derogatory -- it's 250+ km every year, does feature the odd hill, and can be devilishly hard depending on which direction the wind is coming from. Historically paired with Lombardia, the "Autumn Double" -- consecutive wins on the French flats and Lombardian hills -- has only been done four times, the last by Jo de Roo in 1963.
GP Beghelli -- Sprinter-friendly circuit race near Bologna. It does break up some, and Damiano Cunego scored the win here in 2007, but the identity of last season's winner, Alessandro Petacchi, tells you a bit about the course.
Wednesday, Oct 14
Milano-Torino -- Possibly the oldest race in the world, depending on how strict you are with definitions. The first edition was 1876, a few years after the now-toast Paris-Rouen. Second edition wasn't until 1894, by which time Liege-Bastogne-Liege was up and running. Anyway, it's nearly 200km and the Colle di Superga climb 16km from the end tends to break things up in favor of the fastmen who can climb a bit. [UPDATE] On hiatus for 2009...
Thursday, Oct 15
Giro del Piemonte -- Piedmont may be home to the Alps and Appenines, but the hole in the donut is nice and flat, which would explain why Allan Davis and Daniele Bennati are among the recent winners. For sprinters, this is where the curtain comes down on 2009.
Saturday, Oct 17
Giro di Lombardia -- Don't even get me started. Not with more than two weeks to wait.
So there you have it. Thanks to those of you who have patiently waited since the second paragraph for today's theme video. Swedish music at its finest...
Europe - The Final Countdown (via sonybmg)