The Pro Tour continues its summer run with the 15th running of Hamburg, Germanyâ€™s Vattenfall Cyclassics.Â Formerly, the HEW Cyclassics, the race was a World Cup event from 1998 until joining the Pro Tour in 2005.Â The relatively flat race usually favors riders strong enough to make it over the small climbs that speckle the route yet fast enough to win what often amounts to a small to mid-size group sprint.Â With several men eager to take their first big win of the summer, Sundayâ€™s start list contains no shortage of popular favorites.Â Letâ€™s take a look:
1. Last yearâ€™s champion, Garminâ€™s Tyler Farrar returns this year to defend his title with the support of Julian Dean, Maartijn Maaskant, and Tour of Denmark runner-up Svein Tuft.Â Farrarâ€™s again looking to Hamburg for retribution following another hard-luck showing at the Tour de Franceâ€”this time the result of a broken wrist sustained in the Tourâ€™s Stage 2 carnage.Â Farrar used Denmark to ease himself back into the swing of thingsâ€”weâ€™ll soon know if heâ€™s really â€œbackâ€ and ready to compete again.
2. Saxo Bank brings another talented and experienced squad to Hamburg led by none other than Fabian Cancellara.Â While Spartacus is always a man to watch, he and popular teammate Jens Voigt might be better suited to helping their faster colleagues Matti Breschel and the Haedo brothers win in a field sprint.Â Breschel has just announced his transfer to Rabobank, the Dane is certainly eager to prove the Dutch squad spent its money wisely.Â One interesting note: Frank Schleck rides Sunday, giving the Luxembourger a good day of training as he attempts to ride himself back into form in time for the Tour of Spain.
3. Team Milram could certainly use a big winâ€”itâ€™s beginning to look as if Gerry Van Gerwenâ€™s carriage is about to become a pumpkin again as his search for a new title sponsor has found little success.Â Germanyâ€™s Gerald Ciolek will be the teamâ€™s best chance Sunday, with Linus Gerdemann, Fabian Wegman, and Christian Knees looking for a winning breakaway.
4. Astanaâ€™s had a rough time following its successful Tour de France. Alberto Contadorâ€™s left for greener pastures at Saxo Bank and the squad has had trouble finding a replacement for its Tour superstar.Â On Sunday, Allan Davis and Enrico Gasparotto head the teamâ€™s contingent, with both the Australian and the Italian outside bets to take the win should a larger select group hit the line together.
5. Team Katusha brings two former winners to the race with both Robbie McEwen (2008) and Filippo Pozzato (2005) taking the line Sunday.Â While both should be considered candidates for victory watch for the Italian sprinter Danilo Napolitanoâ€”should Pozzato and McEwen put their eggs in his basket, the victory could head to Italy.
6. As for Liquigas, Francesco Chicchi is bound for Quick Step next season, but the Italian could still take an important for his team before his departure.Â Hamburg is also the type of race suiting Peter Saganâ€™s talents.Â The young Slovakian abandoned the Tour of Poland with stomach problems, but he could still prove to be a force to be reckoned with here.
7. As for Omega Pharma-Lottoâ€™s Philippe Gilbert, weâ€™re still a month or two away from his best fitnessâ€”heâ€™s peaking for another crack at a world title in Australia.Â The rest of his team is likely looking for summer miles in advance of their autumn engagements as well, but Jurgen Roelandts is a name to rememberâ€”he won the Belgian title a few years ago in a field sprint, and this is the right time of year for surprises.
8. Rabobank is in a situation similar to Lottoâ€™s with Nick Nuyens and Lars Boom likely looking ahead to other eventsâ€”like next weekâ€™s ENECO Tour.Â Team Radio Shack is in a similar boat with Geert Steegmans the only man with a shot Sundayâ€”and thatâ€™s iffy at best.Â That said, Matt Busche took third in the Tour of Denmarkâ€”the American at least deserves mention.
9. Sundayâ€™s real favorite might just beâ€”no surprise hereâ€”Team HTC-Columbia.Â With Andre Greipel and Matthew Goss both riding at the top of their game, the only problem for the team might be in deciding which horse to pick.
10. JosÃ© Joaquin Rojas was one of the Tour de Franceâ€™s most underrated, but consistent sprint finishers.Â While he might be a bit out-classed by some of the competition Sunday, look for the Caisse dâ€™Epargne rider to continue his quest for the title of â€œWorldâ€™s Fastest Spaniard Not Named Sanchezâ€.
11. As for Lampre, Alessandro Petacchi takes the line hoping for more of the form that saw him take two stages and the green jersey at this yearâ€™s Tour de France.Â But with whispers of doping echoing through the press room, Petacchi might end-up taking a backseat to one of his teammates.Â Of them all, Danilo Hondoâ€™s the best bet to become what would be one of the more surprising winners in the Cyclassicsâ€™ short history.
12. As for Euskaltel, Iâ€™m not counting-out Samuel Sanchez despite a course that doesnâ€™t seem to suit him.Â He won two stages and the overall at the Tour of Burgos and seems to be enjoying the form of his life.Â Hamburgâ€™s smiled upon powerful breakaway opportunists beforeâ€”could this be Sanchezâ€™s year?
13. Team Sky brings a talented roster to Hamburg, buoyed by Edvald Boasson Hagenâ€™s win Friday in the 1.HC Dutch Food Valley Classic.Â Hagen enjoyed a stellar August last year; with a talented team including Juan Antonio Flecha, Greg Henderson, and Chris Sutton, the British team has a good chance to take the win.
14. Of the wild card invites, BMC and Vacansoleil have the best rosters.Â BMC brings 2007-winner Alessandro Ballan to Sundayâ€™s race.Â Ballan rode well in Poland last weekâ€”he and Markus Burghardt give the American a solid one-two punch for the finale.Â As for Vacansoleil, big wins still seem to elude the Dutch team this season.Â Sprinter Borut Borzic and strong man Bjorn Leukemans join Italians Marco Mancato and Alberto Ongarato in trying to earn the squad what would be one of its most important victories to date.
And my prediction?Â Greipel takes the win on home turf.Â Farrar, Hagen, Ballan, and one of the Haedoâ€™s will round out the top-5.