My three biggest reasons to love Sunday's GP Ouest-France, the elite men's verison of Plouay, in no particular order:
- A summer race by the ocean means beautiful, if windy and tricky, weather.
- If cycling had a heartland, France would be it. And if France had a cycling heartland, it would be Bretagne. This is the premier French classic (south of Compiegne), unless you're a sprinter. Or maybe even if you are.
- This course favors everybody and nobody. So attacking is not only not a waste of your time, it's pretty much necessary.
And one reason not to love it: I can't find any statistics on the climbs themselves. Monty already posted the course profile, and as you can see it's up and down all day. Last year Simon Gerrans made the winning selection with 5km to go, on that last climb. The finale is a bit like Milano-San Remo with a late, potentially selective ascent that may or may not weed out the sprinters. Probably the biggest difference between the two is that Plouay replaces the endless, flat intro with a shorter, bumpier ride. So while the sprinters can get there, they may not have as much left in the tank as the climbers -- whereas in MSR everyone is tired by the end. So you get amusingly mismatched podiums like this:
- 2007: Voeckler -- Hushovd -- DiLuca
- 2006: Nibali -- Flecha -- Mori
- 2005: Hincapie -- Usau -- Rebellin
I particularly love that 2006 podium: a climber, a cobbles hammerhead, and a domestique. But rest assured, this is quality. Not monumental; the race has been dominated by French riders, and August is by no means the most competitive month of the season. But the honor roll* is a charming mix of famous names and guys enjoying the biggest win of their lives. [* Italian wikipedia gives full podiums. Bellissimo!]
This year's crop will start with the defending winner Simon Gerrans, currently slugging it out in Limousin. Gerro was a one-off winner and won't have the benefit of surprise with any late attacks, but unless Bradley Wiggins is up the road chasing a break, he's likely to be hanging around. Next rider of note is Pierrick Fedrigo, a perennial favorite with a win and a second placing in the last two editions, whose fast-closing rouleur style is perfect for the terrain and whose employer carries the banner of the nearby Vendee region. Suffice to say that if interest in the race matters, Fedrigo has a leg up on the rest.
After that, it's a bit of a guessing game as to who's interested and on form. Niki Terpstra has a recent win and would fit the bill here. Peter Velits of HTC could use a result and has a nice mix of skills. Daniel Martin is on fire and made the final selection here last year. Peter Sagan might be ready to start busting heads again. Sylvain Chavanel is going well and can totally get a result here. Ditto for Philippe Gilbert. And Brice Feillu. Alessandro Ballan likes this race. Martin Elmiger? Damiano Cunego? Christophe Le Mevel? Mathieu Perget? At some point we're throwing darts here.
So who else? And anyone who knows these hills, please chime in with more detail. Thanks!