...there would be this Cat-6 VDS race [scored 1.HC by the (yawn) UCI] happening on Sunday. Sure, the Tour de Vendée couldn't draw a worse conflict than the Melbourne worlds, which if the Twitter traffic is to be believed requires riders to undertake a dangerous six-month sea voyage to participate. So no hanging around the Vendée if you're dreaming of rainbows. But then France hasn't produced many world champions lately, so back in Montaigu it's game on!
One of the reasons we entered this race in the VDS is because the Vendée is a hotbed of sorts for cyclists. Not sure how it rates with neighboring Bretagne, but the BBox Bouygues Telecom team has been a Vendée project from its inception (to its grave, which is being dug as we speak). Another reason we chose this is because it's the final stage of the Coupe de France. And lastly, because it's a killer course. Check out the 3D course presentation -- it's up-and-down all day, a true attacker's course, not inaccessible to sprinters entirely but not favoring them either, by any means. A lot of the hardest climbing is early on, which is an unusual approach. It's not a stage race, so the odds of pure sprinters staying with a tranquil peloton as they soft-pedal the first two hours aren't good. Rather, things are likely to break up before the final 50km, where the various groups on the road are left to play out tactics as the hills get lower and the finish line gets closer.
Among those strong enough to survive and win by sprint in recent years are Koldo Fernandez, Mikel Gaztanaga and Thor Hushovd. Fernandez outkicked a 25-rider peloton in 2008 for the win, while Gaztanaga's two wins were both of the same variety in 2006 and 2007. But last year was a totally different story, as Pavel Brutt attacked a 12-rider group with 10km to go and was never seen again. In 2005 Jonas Ljungblad scored a similar win over a shattered field from a four-rider break that came in nearly two minutes ahead of the next gruppetto. Hushovd dusted the competition to win alone by over a minute in 2004, with no real peloton forming behind him. And so forth. Bottom line: like any great classic, the race can take a lot of different forms.
Which begs the question: why hasn't Thomas Voeckler won yet? It's a minor surprise, since the race is a home event and ideal course for him. Hey, that's cycling. Anyway, he came close last year, running third, and was in the finale of the 2008 edition when the sprinters took over. Coming off his win in Quebec City, his form is good and with the Worlds guys out of the way I think we can call Voeckler the favorite. But wins have to be earned, and among the guys who'll look to get in his way are Heinrich Haussler, Andreas Klier, and a loaded Test Team, a strong FDJ contingent led by Casar, Ladagnous and Geslin, Andreas Kloden and Gert Steegmans for the Shack, Brice Feillu, Lieuwe Westra and Gorik Gardeyn for Vacansoleil, Michael Van Staeyen for TSV, Koldo Fernandez, Jimmy Casper, and so on. Full startlist here.
Last year's final 5km should give you a pretty good sense of things:
Tour de Vendée 2009 - Final kilometers (via worldcyclingchannel1)And if there was live TV then, I am optimistic about Sunday too. Courage!