Hereâ€™s a quick run-down of this weekendâ€™s major events:
1. The 2010 ENECO Tour continues this weekend with two longish stages in Belgium and the Netherlands.Â Saturdayâ€™s 214.4km stage from St. Lievens-Houtem (Belgium) to Roermond (Holland) should be a good day for the sprinters, with few real difficulties on tap.Â Look for Robbie McEwen and Andre Greipelâ€”and possibly Edvald Boasson Hagenâ€”to fight it out for the win.
Sundayâ€™s stage from Roermond to Sittard is a bit more interesting though, with a 204km berg-filled stage that resembles a mini-Amstel Gold Race.Â HTCâ€™s Tony Martin is the current race leader; if men like Stijn Devolder, Lars Boom, and EBH wish to replace him at the top of the GC, theyâ€™ll need to start their assault here.Â Monday offers another mini-Classic, with a 205km trip through the Belgian Ardennes, including a trip over the infamous Muur de Huy.Â Should Martin make it through these two tough days relatively unscathed, Tuesdayâ€™s final time trial will be a mere formality.Â Weâ€™ll check back in Monday and see where things stand.
2. Moving to Italy, Saturdayâ€™s 1.1 Trofeo Melinda features a largely Italian start list containing some Italian stars and a few men looking ahead to next weekendâ€™s opening of the Tour of Spain.
ISD-Neriâ€™s Giovanni Visconti returns this year to defend his title from last year, this time wearing the tricolore as Italian champion.Â Heâ€™s supported by the German Patrick Sinkewitz, a rider returning to the sport following a doping suspension.Â Liquigas brings some talent to the event in the form of Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali; the latterâ€™s certainly hoping to put the finishing touches on his Vuelta fitness.Â The same can be said of HTC-Columbiaâ€™s Tejay Van Garderen and Garminâ€™s Tom Danielson, two Americanâ€™s hoping for top-10 finishes in Spain.Â HTCâ€™s roster also features Michael Albasini, Marco Pinotti, Konstantin Siutsou, and Maxime Monfortâ€”all four are capable of taking the Italian event should they find themselves in the right break.
Androni Giocattoli brings Michele Scarponi to the race, as well as 2008 Melinda-winner Leonardo Bertagnolli.Â Alessandro Bertoliniâ€™s also on the teamâ€™s roster for Saturdayâ€”heâ€™s always good for an August win in Italy.Â As for the rest, the race features the usual mix of Italian Pro Continental teams, as well as â€œforeignâ€ squads Vorarlberg-Corratec, Miche, Amore Vita, and Katushaâ€™s U23 squadâ€”a win Saturday would certainly be one of the high points of their seasons.
3. And finally, Sunday brings Normandyâ€™s traditional summer Pro Tour event, the Grand Prix Ouest France-Plouay.Â A 248km race run entirely on the parcours of the 2000 World Championships, Plouay features thousands of eager fans and aggressive summer racing.Â This yearâ€™s start list offers several intriguing options:
Australian Simon Gerrans leads Team Sky in his bid to become the eventâ€™s first back-to-back winner since Franceâ€™s Jacques Bossiss in 1976 and 1977.Â Gerrans has the full support of a squad including Bradley Wiggins, Sylvain Calzati, and Serge Pauwels.Â BBox brings 2008 Plouay-winner Pierrick Fedrigo, a rider hoping to continue his successful run this season, while Rabobank looks to Nick Nuyens to get himself back on track with an important victory.Â That said, Lampre might have one of the stronger teams in the race, with Damiano Cunego,Â Grega Bole, and FRancesco Gavazzi eager to take the win.
French teams AG2R, Cofidis, and FDJ, bring the usual mix of homegrown talent and foreign imports, with Maxime Bouet, Rinaldo Nocentini, Remi Pauriol, Anthony Geslin, and Christophe Le Mevel the best of the bunch.Â Caisse dâ€™Epargne brings veteran Frenchman Christophe Moreau and the young sprinter Jose Joaquin Rojas.
Four American teams take the start Sunday, with Radio Shack, BMC, HTC-Columbia, and Garmin-Transitions all coming to Normandy. Â BMCâ€™s Alessandro Ballan, HTCâ€™s Matthew Goss, and Garminâ€™s Tyler Farrar, Ryder Hesjedal, and Daniel Martin are the highlights, with Farrar and Goss the top favorites should the race come down to a sprint.
Belgian squads Omega Pharma-Lotto and Quick Step bring some star power as well Sunday, with Lottoâ€™s Philippe Gilbert and Greg Van Avermaet and Quick Stepâ€™s Sylvain Chavanel and Jerome Pineau all participating.Â Chavanel would love to give the home fans one more taste of his July exploits.
As for Liquigas, Peter Sagan races Sunday in an event that suits him should he have regained some fitness following his abandon from the Tour of Poland.Â Milramâ€™s hoping Niki Terpstra and Fabian Wegmann can make one last-ditch effort to prove the team worthy of a new title sponsor.Â And last but not least, Vacansoleil brings another strong team to France, hoping to make an early bid for a 2011 Tour invitationâ€”Bjorn Leukemans, the Feillu brothers, and Johnny Hoogerland, and Matteo Carrara are the teamâ€™s main hopes Sunday.
4. Thatâ€™s it for the races, here are my picks:
ENECO Tour Stage 4:
3. Boasson Hagen
ENECO Tour Stage 5:
1. Lars Boom
2. Daniel Oss
3. Boasson Hagen
And what about youâ€”who are your picks for the weekend?Â Share them below!