The Criterium du DauphinÃ© wraps-up this weekend with two â€œlegendaryâ€ stages in the Alps. Saturdayâ€™s the most difficult of the two, taking the riders over 3 categorized climbsâ€”including the hors categorie Col du Glandonâ€”before finishing atop the infamous Alpe-dâ€™Huez. The stage should finalize the top of the general classification. If it doesnâ€™t, Sunday offers an interesting parcours as well, ending with 5 laps in Sallanchesâ€”site of the 1980 World Championships and arguably one of the toughest courses in World Championship history. If small gaps remain following Saturdayâ€™s slug-fest, look for aggressive action Sunday.
Radio Shackâ€™s Janez Brajkovic sits comfortably atop the GC, with a 1:41 lead over his main rival, Alberto Contador. Denis Menchov and Jurgen Vandenbroeck are riding well at the moment; they lurk dangerously close at 2:55 and 3:06 respectively. While it appears unlikely these two will unseat the men from Radio Shack and Astana, their performances deserve noting in advance of the Tour de France. Other impressive rides have been put in by Tejay Van Garderenâ€”he sits in second-place at 1:15â€”and Reine Taaramaeâ€”heâ€™s in tenth-place at 3:28.
Itâ€™s looking like Brajkovic and his team have what it takes to hold Contador at bayâ€”tomorrowâ€™s finale should provide some exciting fireworks as the men within shouting distance take their shots. The day will be a good test for both teamsâ€”does Astana have what it takes to win when racing from behind?
Tomorrow also sees the start of the Tour of Switzerlandâ€”the other important Tour de France preparation event. If a start list is any indicator, the Tour de Suisse is overwhelmingly the preferred pre-Tour test. Several teams are bringing the bulk of their Tour rosters; only Contador, Menchov, Vandenbroeck, Evans, Basso, Nibali, and Wiggins wonâ€™t be taking part. A day longer than the DauphinÃ©, the TdS seems to have a slightly easier parcours with no major summit finishes and less time trialing than the DauphinÃ©. That said, this is the Tour of Switzerland weâ€™re talking aboutâ€”itâ€™s certain to be intensely competitive.
Fabian Cancellara would love to defend his title from last yearâ€”doing it while wearing the jersey of Swiss national champion would be an added bonus. Saxoâ€™s bringing the team he needs to do it, with both Schlecks and Jens Voigt lending firepower to the challenge. The TdS will also be our last chance to gauge Lance Armstrongâ€™s fitness prior to the Tour de France. Is he really back on trackâ€”or does he still have work to do? Weâ€™ll know by next Sunday.
Weâ€™ll also get our first opportunity to see Tom Boonen, Mark Cavendish, and Thor Hushovd battle head-to-head this season (at least I think so). Oscar Freireâ€™s coming tooâ€”giving us a terrific preview of some of the main contenders for this Julyâ€™s green jersey.
Personally, Iâ€™m eager to see how well Christian Vande Velde has recovered from his crash in the Giro, as well as the extent to which young guns Roman Kreuziger and Robert Gesink will be contenders in next monthâ€™s Grand Boucle.
And my pick for the winner? I think Tony Martin takes it with a powerful time trial on the last day. Cancellara will be close, but heâ€™ll have one tough day in the hills, giving Martin the gap he needs to take the win.
What about you? Who are your picks for the weekendâ€™s events? What do you hope the race will reveal in advance of this yearâ€™s Tour?
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