Sunday, Sunday, Sunday! We’re still at a point in the season where the schedule bounces around a bit from one week to another. This weekend’s action occurs mainly on Sunday with one stage race ending, another beginning, and a Belgian cyclocross finale to the Superprestige. Let’s take a look:
We begin in France where today’s Stage 4 of the Tour de Med was neutralized due to bad weather after 114km of racing with Cofidis’ Julien El Fares being declared the “winner”. Tomorrow’s showdown on the slopes of Mont Faron is threatened as well—here’s hoping the weather improves as the stage looked certain to produce some of the most exciting racing we’ve seen thus far this young season. Should the race occur unaltered, look for fireworks from the 3 strongest men still capable of taking the overall: Alejandro Valverde, Johnny Hoogerland, and Alexandre Vinokourov. Valverde and Hoogerland lie a mere 10 seconds behind FDJ’s Jussi Veikkanen, with Vino a further 7 seconds back. In the finalé, FDJ will be hard-pressed to hold down the bastille, as all 3 men possess the explosivity necessary for success on the 1st Category climb to the finish. While Valverde and Vino will be tough to beat, I’ll stick to my original prediction: Hoogerland will take it by a narrow margin. If he’s smart he’ll offer Vino the stage win in exchange for some solidarity against Valverde—his 7-second cushion offers him the wiggle room he needs to do so. Hopefully the weather will let us see what happens.
Heading farther South, weather won’t be a problem at the Tour of Oman, Eddy Merckx’s new venture. The majority of teams and riders from the Tour of Qatar have stuck around, undoubtedly drawn to the abundant sunshine and high temperatures. They better live it up though; there’s nowhere to hide after Friday when everything heads back north. As for this week, while the terrain in Oman is a bit more “diverse” than Qatar, the race is still essentially a sprinter’s paradise, aside from an 18km time trial on the final day. Look for the traditional fast men to rule the first 5 stages, with perhaps one long breakaway finding success should the sprinters’ teams feel generous. Boonen and Chicchi got the better of the rest in Qatar; Farrar, Cooke, and Napolitano will be looking for some form of revenge. In the end, Edvald Boasson Hagen should take overall the win. He showed an ability to sprint with best in Qatar and the ITT on the final day will certainly put him heads and shoulders above the rest of the competition—it’s an ideal situation for Team Sky’s first GC victory of 2010.
Finally, we head back north to Belgium and the final round of the Superprestige in Vorselaar. Sven Nys needs a miracle to take the overall title—he’ll have to win with both Niels Albert and Zdenek Stybar finishing well behind him. Stybar and Albert will certainly be eying one another closely—they’re tied for the overall lead with the spoils going to whoever crosses the line first. In the end, their game of cat and mouse could play right into Nys’ hands, perhaps giving him the leeway he’ll need to ride with a victory on the day. And the overall title? Well, stranger things have happened.
As always, enjoy the racing—hopefully the weather wherever you reside is allowing you a ride or two as well. Please share your comments and predictions with the rest of as comments below.