After seeing the courses announced for the 2012 Giro and Tour this week, it's got me thinking again on a topic I've become aware of after coming to the realization 2 weeks ago that I haven't done a European race outside Italy since April. Now, with the 2 route announcements, I am betting the team will throw me for the Giro again next year, as it's more climbing heavy and the Tour, well, is all TT. I don't see myself racing the 2012 Tour unless I find my long lost TT form from the u23's(something which I am desperately hunting this offseason).
The stark realization that I seem to heavily race in Italy makes total sense: Simply put, I race well there. I think it's the fact that I love the country, the food, and the routes/peloton suit me.
Allow me to elaborate:
All riders are well aware of the race rhythm that accompanies each country. Races in certain countries seem to consistently follow similar patterns in how the race is attacked, played out, and well, raced. In Belgium, most races are fast all day, regardless of course. The Belgie peloton seems to love fighting the position battle from start to finish. You mix in flatter terrain, cobbles, northern weather, and the result is a nervous tension-strung power fest.
Attacks non stop. The french Peloton will attack to breakaway, attack when the break is gone, and attack their teammates just to get up the road and into the hearts of the public. Just as the Tour suits not pure climbers, but strong time trialists as well, that's how the racing is. The mountains can make a difference but you need a lot of power and need to fight for your place to succeed.
The riders who climb well and tolerate heat will excel obviously. Typically races start and finish late as is the lifestyle in Spain. The Spanish peloton rolls on the flat relaxed, goes hard on the climbs, really sprints over the top(favoring all those Spaniards with "pop"), and coasts down the other side until the next uphill.
Very similar to Spain except the total climb is usually a more consistent hard from bottom to top, with only the best being able to get away at the top. Often a group climbing together will crest the mountain together. Italian races seem to descend faster as well(maybe has to do with the pavement/engineering?)These races are more about attrition.
The fast parts are just as fast as top level Euro races, but the Peloton rolls along easier when it isn't crunch time. More of an interval-set type of racing. Positioning is a non-factor due to the wide and generally smooth roadways all through the country.
Both Italy and Spain seem to take a relaxed "lets chat in the sun and race the hard parts really hard" approach. Where as Belgium and France require more power and all day fighting. While I haven't done too much in Holland, it seems the positioning and handlebar-bumping is even more critical.
Of course these are just observations and opinions, and races aren't all the same. But let's face it, there is a reason stereotypes exist. Another thing to note is that all the aforementioned characteristics are exaggerated when you have a lower categorized race with more continental teams. Since the WorldTour teams are more universal, race differences are smoothed somewhat but not lost altogether. It seems just being in the region will shape the mindset of the racers there.
So, all my results in Europe have come out of Italy. Just coincidence? But I'm happy with that, I love visiting the country, the food is amazing, the roads interesting, the landscape breathtaking, and the racing is great.
Photo by Susie Hartigan.