Let’s take a quick look at this weekend’s program, shall we?
The Circuit Franco-Belge holds a special meaning for me as it was my last race with Mercury in 2001. The event kicked-off yesterday with Tyler Farrar taking the win from Boonen and Napolitano. He repeated himself today, winning in Poperinge over Usov and Casper. (Where was all this speed during the Vuelta?)
The field in the Franco-Belge is always a bit of a crapshoot. This year, several teams have brought some of their A-list riders—Boonen, Farrar, Flecha, Nuyens, Ivanov, and Gilbert, Van Avermaet all took the start. But it remains to be seen just how seriously they will take it. For some--like the men I just mentioned--this 4-day stage race along the western Franco-Belgian border is their final serious preparation. For the rest—continental teams and stagiaires especially—this is one final shot to be recognized or earn a contract for 2010.
I’m also interested to see Stijn Devolder was left-off the list. It goes to show that my hunch a few weeks ago might have some validity. Don't be surprised to see him as the latest--and perhaps final--big Radio Shack signing this fall.
Moving on, Saturday and Sunday see three 1.1 races in Germany, France, and Italy. The Münsterland Giro has returning champion Andre Greipel taking the line backed by a strong squad including Edvald Boassen Hagen and Tony Martin. Milram will be pinning its hopes on Gerald Ciolek, while Saxo will most likely back the legs of Matthew Goss. Other names to watch include Sebastien Lang, Kenny Dehaes, Philip Deignan, and Kenny Van Hummel.
The Tour de Vendée used to be run in April; now it occupies a late-fall slot, no doubt hoping to attract one or two riders in advance of Paris-Tours. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case as most of the bigger teams went elsewhere or left their riders at home. Look for another battle of the Frenchmen as teams like Cofidis and BBox try to show the world that their Pro Tour exclusions were a mistake. (Yeah, because winning the Tour de Vendée will totally prove the UCI wrong.)
Finally, the Italian season trudges-on with the Memorial Cimurri. Alessandro Ballan and Filippo Pozatto are the biggest names here—Basso was supposed to start, but was replaced at the last minute. Maybe Alessandro Petacchi will try and put his late-season money where his mouth is?
Moving from road to mud, the Cyclocross World Cup begins this weekend in Treviso, Italy. Whenever I think of cyclocross in Italy I can’t help but think of the sport’s own Keebler elf, Daniele Pontoni. Remember him? He made frosted tips and cocaine all de rigeur on the European cyclocross circuit in the late-1990’s.
While Erik, Pavé’s new cross columnist, thinks Sven Nijs will begin to re-assert his dominance this weekend, I think Niels Albert still has the form to win. Nijs will take 2nd and Stybar will fill-out the podium.
And you? Any thoughts on the weekend? How about Gloucester? Who are your picks for the first big cross races of the year?
Share your comments below.
And if you haven’t had a chance to yet, be sure to check-out my latest column at Embrocation Cycling Journal.
Have a great weekend!