The calendar is getting awfully short on this 2010 cycling season, consisting of just six classic races, four in Italy and two in France. For the riders straggling back from Australia, there isn't a whole lot left to accomplish... but there are some quality palmares out there for a variety of racers. And the Podium Cafe Virtual Directeur Sportif isn't quite finished either.
Starting with the latter, the team standings give us the following top five:
|1.||tgartner||Sleeping Maiden Velo||11906|
|2.||dan beringhele||ORB, Inc.||11300|
|3.||Frinking||Vino, Vidi, Vici||11281|
A few observations:
- That's a pretty commanding lead for Sleeping Maiden Velo, though they're not completely home yet. The Maidens have Nibali, Evans, LuLu, Horner and Scarponi in play, but second-placed ORB has Gilbert and Boonen, so a Belgian feeding frenzy could flip the results. Frinking is relying on Vino, Gesink and Bennati, while Max power could pull the massive upset on the backs of Pozzovivo, Sagan and maybe Karpets.
- Prizes will go three deep this year, and the battle for the remaining two podium places is practically a dead heat. In fact, no less than nine teams are over the 11,000 point mark... an auspicious cutoff, as Ursula and Albertina are next, tied at 10,858, which I think is probably too far back.
- The key race is of course Lombardia, for which we have no real startlist just yet, and which can only be predicted when races like the Coppa Sabatini and Giro dell'Emilia have been run. Paris-Tours is a cat-4, where you could make a dent in your deficit with three or so guys in the top five. But the other cat-5 and cat-6 races won't give the chasing teams much chance to gain ground... particularly since the Maidens will have their share of top guys in each race. We'll follow the gap heading into Lombardia, but if it's still 600 points, and the Shark is still looking strong, it's probably over.
- The VDS's close cousin, our rider rankings, is currently a dead heat with Tyler Farrar and Purito Rodriguez stuck on 2000, with the idle Contador just behind. Should neither of those Worlds-weary travelers show up again in the next ten days, look for Vincenzo Nibali to make a play for the top spot, sitting 144 points down. In the team ranking, HTC-Columbia leads Saxo Bank by less than 200 points, though I expect that gap to hold up.
As for the events, each race will get its own preview, but just a quick recap...
- Thursday's Paris-Bourges is an ancient race run to the central region of France. The Gorilla won last year and sprinters have taken the last three editions (Greipel, Eisel and R. Feillu), so in some sense you could call it a warm-up for Sunday's Paris-Tours. Like the latter, Paris-Bourges is sprinter-friendly, but equally open to clever attacks. My favorite factoid is that Bourges is in the Department of Cher, which sounds like a wing of People Magazine circa 1985.
- Also on Thursday, the tripartite countdown to the Giro di Lombardia begins with the difficult uphill finish at the Coppa Sabatini. Last year Philippe Gilbert won the race with newly-minted champion Cadel Evans setting him up generously. This year the race falls victim to the Down Under Blues, with almost nobody slated to start after trekking back from Melbourne. By my calculation, ships departing from Botany Bay aren't due to dock in Southampton until just after the first of the year, so we could see some unusual names in the next week or so.
- Saturday is the Giro dell'Emilia, whose beauty has been chronicled below. Suffice to say, we expect a great race and maybe a little foreshadowing of Lombardia, as some of the pure climbers like Robert Gesink, Pozzovivo, Scarponi and the like never went to Melbourne, while other big names like Nibali will start trickling in.
- Sunday is Paris-Tours, which theoretically closes the books on sprints for the year. Except when it doesn't. Or when the Giro del Piemonte does instead.
- Speaking of which, the Piemonte might be a mountainous race at times, but it has tended to come back together before the finish. Gilbert, flying after his Paris-Tours win, stung the peloton again here last year.
- And finally, it's the real season finale, the ever lovely foglie morte, the Giro di Lombardia. If you haven't heard of it, stay tuned. And if you know it well and can't wait for some coverage... stay tuned.