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This Week... And Your Inaugural Podium Cafe World Ranking!

A wee process update -- The Podium Cafe Editorial Perpetual Motion Machine hasn't finalized the World Ranking graphics, but sometime this week or thereabouts you should start to see these in the left sidebar. For now, and with much fanfare, I shall unleash the first-ever Podium Cafe World Rankings! Drum roll please...

  1. Juan Antonio Flecha, 250 points
  2. Heinrich Haussler, 200
  3. Tyler Farrar, 180
  4. Luca Paolini, 160
  5. Bobbie Traksel, 150
  6. Marcel Sieberg, 140
  7. Rik Flens, 125
  8. Edvald Boasson Hagen, 120
  9. [five riders] 100

Haussler, the eternal second? Probably not, van der Flecha had his big day and won't hold the top spot through Paris-Nice. Obviously the scores are heavily influenced by the Omloop, with Traksel and Flens bagging points from the cat-5 KBK and five guys at 100 consisting mostly of guys who won the Cat-6 races, along with Stannard and Eeckhoudt.

As to the calendar, get used to the races coming fast and furious, because it doesn't really let up until... you don't want to know. Obviously this isn't an exhaustive list, but here are the races which are part of the VDS and the Podium Cafe World Ranking... On the Flip:

[FYI, this is more like a list of races than real previews. If you want to pen some previews, feel free.]

All Week: Tour de Langkawi -- Cat 6

Is it my imagination, or does the race not so much as touch the island of Langkawi? Whatever, any rider being sent to Malaysia in March isn't going to ask inconvenient questions like this. Weather is forecast to be in the 80s all week. Even the threat of rain won't bother the Euros in the peloton too much. The startlist is almost 100% outside the VDS, and I doubt if the race will impact the standings at all. Michael Matthews of Team Jayco-Skins won today's opener. You can probably ignore the race, unless you have access to video or will be in Malaysia this week, in which case I urge you to take a peek. [If you're wondering why we included the race at all, my best answer would be that Cat 6 is mostly for races whose future inclusion is an open question. But we did want to have at least one race in Asia.]

Wednesday: Giro Del Friuli

Back to Europe on Wednesday, with the earlier event being this flattish race in the Friuli region near Venice. The closing circuit contains the last five of six trips up the Castello di Caneva climb before a 10-km run to the line. Caneva Castle itself is an ancient ruin of some sort, and while I can't find stats, a local mountain bike club runs up that way, so you can bet it's a grueling event. This might explain why the honor roll includes noted climbers like Davide Rebellin and Franco Pellizotti.

For 2010, defending champ Mirco Lorenzetto leads a pretty deep field including Pellizotti, Andy Schleck, Pippo Pozzato, Marzio Bruseghin, Giovanni Visconti, and the Chicken (no Cobra sighting...).

Wednesday: Le Samyn

On up to Belgium, it's the annual memorial to Jose Samyn, a rugged route through the Hainault region of French-speaking Belgium, featuring four Côtes in the opening act of 130km and two more in the closing circuit, passed five times. Robbie McEwen is on the honor roll, so either things have changed or these côtes are nothing special, but then it's Belgium in March, when difficulty has more to do with wind and weather than topography. Adding to the fun is the fact that the race is scheduled to be aired on RTBF, so there's a very good chance we can watch it live online. The bad news is that I can't tell you who's racing, since almost none of the teams have filled in their startlists. The team lineup includes Saxo, Quick Step, BMC, Milram, Omega Pharma, AG2R, FDJ, Bbox Bweeg, and other recognizable outfits, so hopefully it'll be a strong field. Recent winners include Wouter Weylandt, Philippe Gilbert, and Jimmy Casper.

Wed-Sun: Vuelta a Murcia

First of the big Spanish regional tours, this race rund five days around Alejandro Valverde's home region. This is the biggest race of the mid-week, featuring one hard climb after another, with the exception of stage 4, a 22km time trial. The Green Bullet has overshadowed the race at times, winning three editions in five years, before sitting out last time around and making way for a Menchov victory. That alone should tell you that the winner of this race is a person of interest. As were some past winners, such as a young Miguel Indurain in 1986. Lance Armstrong is expected to make his season debut here, so you shouldn't have much trouble finding race information. So are Andreas Kloden and Menchov.

Fri-Sun: Driedaagse West Vlaanderen

Now named after Johan Museeuw? Hm, Belgian cycling's reputation for not unpacking its success stories is certainly well earned. Personally I would have waited another decade. Anyhieuw...

West Flanders is the flat part of the region, which in Flanders is saying something. Think of the last half of Driedaagse de Panne, or the first half of the Tour of Flanders, where they're not ramping up the speed yet. Like Le Samyn, wind and rain will determine how brutal those three days in West Flanders turn out to be. Most of the big names sit this out and head to Paris-Nice or Italy instead, but there are plenty of recognizable characters, such as KBK winner Bobby Trachsel, Robert Forster, Mario Aerts, Fumy Beppu, Yukia Arashiro, Boy Van Poppel, Alex Rasmussen, and so on.

Saturday: Monte Paschi Strade Bianche (Eroica)

The White Roads of Chianti are back for their fourth edition of this much-admired and well-raced adventure. It's hilly enough for Thomas Lofkvist to win last year, but not hilly enough to stop Fabian Cancellara the year before. We will cover this in more detail later in the week, for sure. For now, the startlist is pretty bare, though by Saturday it should contain almost every big name that's attending Tirreno-Adriatico.

Sun-Sun: Paris-Nice

Not worth getting into here. This is the big time. We will cover the bejeezus out of it. Stay tuned.