A jam-packed weekend of racing awaits--here's a preview:
The Vuelta’s three “hellish days” began today with the first of three consecutive summit finishes. Congrats to Ryder Hesjedal for winning Garmin it’s second straight stage--and the first for a Canadian. (Does anyone else think the organizers goofed by having a KOM less than 100 meters from the finish line?) The climbing continues Saturday with another summit finish, this time atop the infamous Sierra Nevada. Sunday offers more pain, with one of many super-steep climbs the Vuelta organizers seem to have a knack for finding: the Sierra de la Pandera. By Monday, we should have a clearer idea of whom will occupy to top few steps of the podium in Madrid.
Today’s racing left Valverde in the Golden Jersey, with 5 riders still within 1:03 of his lead. Needless to say, the next two days should provide some of the most dramatic racing of the year. Danielson and Gesink appear to be the biggest animators, with Cadel Evans, Ivan Basso, and Damiano Cunego looking primed to add fireworks of their own. Tune in if you have the time.
This weekend also marks the return of big-time racing to Northern Europe, with the annual fall semi-classics Paris-Brussels and Grand Prix de Fourmies. Paris-Brussels is without Robbie McEwen, the winner of the last 4 editions. Nick Nuyens, the last rider to win it before McEwen’s string of dominance, takes the line this year eager to add another win to his record. It would be a nice end to a season in which Nuyens has failed to deliver the big classic win his team has been seeking. He’ll have ample support; Rabobank’s bringing along a squad that also includes Juan Antonio Flecha, Matthew Hayman, and Sebastian Langeveld.
Other riders to watch in these races? Last year’s Fourmies, winner Giovanni Visconti, takes the line with Team ISD, perhaps hoping to make the final cut for Worlds. Luca Paolini and Stefano Garzelli line-up for Acqua & Sapone hoping for the same. Liquigas makes the trip too, with Ghent-Wevelgem runner-up Aleksander Kuschynski leading the way along with Frederik Willems. French teams are naturally bringing some talent with BBox and Cofidis starting Thomas Voeckler and Christophe Kern respectively both days. FDJ comes with Christophe Le Mevel, Frédéric Guesdon, Anthony Geslin, and Yauheni Hutarovich forming the core of its contingent. Agritubel takes the start with Belgian Kevin Ista, Nicolas Jalabert, and Romain Feillu.
And don’t forget Quick Step and Silence-Lotto. With most of their best riders racing in Spain right now, Sylvain Chavanel leads the cause for Quick Step with Greg Van Avermaet doing the same for Silence. The usual line-up of Belgian and French Continental Teams are taking part too, with the best being Top Sport Vlaanderen with Jan Bakelants, Ben Hermans, and Nikolas Maes.
Moving Northwest, the Tour of Britain begins this weekend as well, with last year’s winner Geoffroy Lequarte returing to defend his title supported by a strong Agritubel team including Brice “Don’t Call Me Richard Virenque” Feillu. The real favorite has to be Edvald Boassen Hagen, with a strong Columbia -HTC contingent of riders able to deliver him the victory. The question is whether or not management will let them. Remember the Tour of Poland? Remember how close he came to the win with seemingly little or no help from his team? Think it’s a coincidence considering he was probably in the midst of negotiations with Team Sky?
Other riders with British ambitions are Tour-hero Brad Wiggins, Nicholas Roche, and Joost Posthuma. Pippo Pozatto’s there as well, no doubt hoping to fine tune his fitness for Worlds and Paris-Tours. For one last wild card team, watch team Joker Bianchi from Norway. Lars Petter Nordhaug and Alexander Kristoff have shown incredible talent over the past few weeks; they could pull a surprise.
Finally, the Univest Grand Prix takes place this weekend, bringing top-flight UCI racing the Southeastern Pennsylvania. Top amateur and elite squads including Trek-Livestrong and Felt-Holowesko Partners will showcase the riders of the future. I’ll be riding the Cyclosportif tomorrow and hopefully sticking-around for the rest of the day’s action.
All in all, there’s something for everyone this weekend. Who are your picks? Which race(s) will you be watching? Share your comments below.