It's a bit late in the game for it, but let's have a bit of fun and take a wild stab at guessing some winners in tomorrow's national championships. I admit that we could have done some research into the course profiles and start lists for each race, but let's face it, it's much more fun to make educated guesses based on who's showed what kind of form in various events over the past few weeks. Besides, these races often turn-out to be crap-shoots anyway, so reason often doesn't apply.
Let the (guessing) games begin!
National championships in countries like Austria are often extra-hard to call. The best riders have been signed to foreign teams and often find themselvs out-numbered by smaller-budget domestic teams. Thus, these individuals tend to fwork together to control the race in small mercenary bands. This year, I think Bernhard Eisel will take the win. His stage in the Tour de Suisse shows he's on-form, and he has the talent to win the race both from a break and in a sprint.
This race will come down to three teams: Silence-Lotto, Quick Step, and everyone else. Silence will be backing Philippe Gilbert in a breakaway and Greg Van Avermaet in a field sprint. Quick Step has Stijn Devolder for breakaways, Tom "It's Just My Allergies" Boonen for sprints, and wild cards like Sebastien Roesselar. As for everyone else, there's well...everyone else. For my money I'm picking Gilbert. He's obviously on-form, and the race goes through his backyard. (He'll be super-motivated.) If you really want an outsider, take Maxime Monfort. And if Serge Pauwels happens to take it home, just remember that you heard it here first.
Look for Roman Kreuzinger to begin a terrific summer by winning his country's national championship. The question is, will he be forced to change it for something else in July?
Here's one for Saxo Bank. Chris Anker Sørensen's heading to his first Tour; he'll do it wearing the Danish National Champion jersey.
FDJ will have a national champion in the Tour, but he won't be French. He'll be Finland's Jussi Veikkanen.
The French National Championship is an entertaining race to watch for no other reason than it's certain to produce a French winner. Besides, it's a tremendous honor to wear the tri-color in July in France's national tour. It's also a race where several evenly matched teams take the start, each with a rider or two capable of winning the race in exciting fashion. David Moncoutie was someone we had tipped to win this race following his stage win in the Dauphiné, but he's staying home to be with his newborn son. For me, BBox seems to have the best riders right now with both Pierrick Fédrigo and Thomas Voeckler ready, willing, and able to take the win. That said, this might be just the race where a wild card like Sylvain Chavanel might be able to exploit the political tactics of the larger teams and take the win with minimal help from his trade team buddies. If he shows the form he had earlier in the year, he'll take it easily. He's my pick.
Fabian Wegmann has come to make this race the cornerstone of his season, proceeding to follow his national win with a three week flag-waving session off the front at the Tour (with nothing to show for it). This year, I think Columbia could get another national title with Tony Martin the lucky recipient. But wait, we're forgetting another of this spring's major protagonist's! Heinrich Haussler's been rounding into form quite nicely following his spring exploits. He's headed to the Tour looking for a stage win and perhaps a green jersey should his teammate Thor Hushovd falter. Look for him to start things off with a win in his national championship (well, one of them). And don't worry, Fabby, come Tour-time you'll find the national title was a curse, and you'll finally get the stage win you and Milram have been craving for so long.
Like Austria, GB's a race where a small group of continental pros battle the domestic men for bragging rights. Last year, the locals won, with Rob Hayles taking home the title. If he competes, everyone will be curious to see how Cavendish fares. However, I'm thinking a race like this won't be his cup of tea. Garmin's David Millar is a candidate, as is his teammate Bradley Wiggins. But let's pick another wild card here, and go with a rider from Britain's most consistent domestic team this year: Rapha-Condor. Dean Downing's name sticks in my mind for some reason or another, let's go with him!
The Italian Championship is always an exciting race with a start list full of potential winners. Recently we picked Alessandro Ballan to formally announce his return to the sport's top level with a win here, but lately I've been thinking that Damiano Cunego will take home the jersey. He's not riding the Tour, and he certainly has something to prove following a spring with less-than-stellar results. He gets it!
It's the Schleck's versus Kim Kirchen. Kirchen will take it! Andy will get revenge in July.
This is usually Rabobank's race to lose. This year, I think they might. Lars Boom is certainly able to repeat, but I think Skil-Shimano will be motivated beyond belief to take the Dutch Champion to the Tour. I'm picking Kenny Van Hummel.
This is an interesting race with several riders capable of taking home the honors. Assuming a domestic team isn't able to snatch the win from the bigger guns, look for an interesting showdown between this country's three greatest names: Kurt Asle Arvesen, Thor Hushovd (not sure if he's racing), and Edvald Boassen Hagen. I'm taking Boassen Hagen.
Sergio Paulinho will prove his Tour invite was warranted--at least he hopes it does.
This one goes to Katusha. Sergei Ivanov has the form and the savvy to take this one for the (other) boys in red, white, and blue.
Here's another race for Columbia this time with Thomas Lövkvist getting it done.
Switzerland's another race like Austria. In fact, one can't help but wonder what a race combining the two countries' championships would be like. My pick: Michael Albasini. He's won some big races this year, and is clearly in-form.
Spain's a country similar to Belgium: two or three major teams with a bevy of riders capable of winning and several smaller domestic teams and individuals spending a weekend away from their trade team colleagues. Alberto Contador's already fired his warning shot for July by winning the ITT earlier in the week. The clear pick is Alejandro Valverde. He's angry following his Tour exclusion, has a strong team behind him, and will probably have Luis Leon Sanchez willing to work for him (he'll have the team to himself in France). Oscar Freire presents an interesting option, but I think he'll be overpowered by the larger teams. Valverde's the pick.
That's it! Feel free to share your picks--or critiques of my omissions--in the comments section. And if I left a country out that you have a tip for, share it as well.
Have a great evening!