That was quite a weekend, huh? The Vuelta, semi-classics in Belgium and France, the Tour of Britain, the new Canadian Pro Tour events ,and the opening events of the domestic cyclocross calendar meant a busy weekend for teams, fans, and pundits. Let’s take a look:
1. It was a dramatic Saturday in Spain where Liquigas’ Vincenzo Nibali took over the lead in the Spanish grand tour following the crash and abandon of Euskaltel’s Igor Anton. For Nibali, it was his second chance to wear the leader’s jersey in a grand tour this season following his time in pink at the Giro. For Anton, his dream September came to a skidding halt, robbing the rider of his chance to win an event that was beginning to look more and more as if it were his to lose.
On Sunday, Xacobeo’s Ezequiel Mosquera did his best to wrestle the race lead away from Nibali, escaping five kilometers from the top of the Lagos de Covadonga—but he only gained a measly 11 seconds. Today however, Joaquin Rodriguez had better luck, taking the race lead from Nibali on the final two kilometers Alto de Cotobello.
Rodriguez now has a 33-second lead over the Italian, with Mosquera another 20-seconds back in third. Nibali’s best chance to regain the lead comes Wednesday, with a 46-kilometer time trial in Peñafiel. He’ll need all the time he can get though, for Saturday’s penultimate stage offers one more chance for Rodriguez on the HC summit finish to Bola del Mundo. Look for Stage 20 to give us one of the closest Vuelta finishes in years—and a fitting finale to this season’s grand tours.
2. Moving north, Saturday’s 90th running of the Paris-Brussels semi-classic was won by the Spaniard Francesco Ventoso of the Camioroo-NGC team. Vacansoleil’s Roman Feillu took second, only to go one better the next day at the Grand Prix Fourmies in northern France. Sunday’s win meant Feillu successfully defended his title from last year’s race—he’s now the first back-to-back winner since Jean-Luc Vandenbroucke in 1976-1977.
And speaking of Vacansoleil, rumor has it they’ll be riding Ridley’s next season—just in case you were wondering.
3. At the Tour of Britain, HTC-Columbia won two of the first three stages with Andre Greipel taking the sprint win on Stage 1 and Michael Albasini taking Stage 3 after a rainy, undulating finish today in Swansea. With few major difficulties (the kind that cause major GC splits) between now and the race’s final stage in London on Sunday, there’s little reason to believe Albasini and his team won’t take the final victory—and several more stage wins as well. Team Sky will give it their best shot—Greg Henderson’s already won Stage 2 for the home team, but he’s unlikely to mount a serious challenge for the overall. The best challenge might come from Vacansoleil—the team has riders in fourth through sixth places on GC, making them a threat should one of these men find himself a major
4. Back in France, the Tour de L’Avenir ended yesterday with an uphill time trial to Risoul. The race—and the final two stages—went to Colombia’s Alexander Quintanarojas, while American (and Garmin-Cervélo recruit) Andrew Talansky took second on GC. For the Colombian squad, the overall victory adds to the team’s impressive international run this season, adding a second major stage race to their victory in June’s Giro Bio (won by Carlos Betancur). With top international U23 talent such as Taylor Phinney, John Degenkolb, and Yannick Eijssen all taking stage wins, look for several of the race’s key protagonists to be hitting a Pro Tour squad near you sometime soon.
5. And last but not least, the Pro Tour made a fabulous North American debut this weekend with two events in Quebec. BBox’s Thomas Voeckler and Rabobank’s Robert Gesink took the wins after two days of aggressive racing. Several stars choosing to make the trip, one can only wonder what’s keeping US promoters from obtaining Pro Tour events of their own. With big budget stage races like the Tour of Georgia and the Tour of Missouri falling by the wayside, maybe the better strategy calls for running two solid one-day events in close proximity to one another. After all, the Tour of California has jumped through all sorts of hoops and it still can’t claim Pro Tour status, yet these two races earned it with hardly a test run. Does the American race promotion philosophy need to change? Or do American promoters not care about Pro Tour status?
6. Moving from road to mud, the domestic cyclocross season opened this weekend with several races across the country. Look for the season’s first Domestic Power Ranking in a day or two. Will Nittany Cross winner Luke Keough make the list?
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So you have it–what were your highlights from the weekend? Which performances did you find most impressive?
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