Lots of racing this weekend—let’s take a quick look:
1. In France the Etoile de Besseges wraps-up with two stages this weekend, the most difficult of which is Saturday’s Stage 4. The stage starts and finishes in the town of Ales and tackles three categorized climbs on the day—although the last is not too close to the finish. Vacansoleil’s Johnny Hoogerland took a narrow lead after finishing second in today’s stage; look for him to have little trouble defending it through to the end. For some reason or another, Vacansoleil really wants this race. (Hey guys, you’ve already been invited to the Tour.)
2. Saturday also features the 16th edition of Italy’s GP della Costa Etruschi. No startlists have been made available (you can find one here), but I see that Lampre’s Alessandro Petacchi has been scratched from the start list in Qatar, likely to attend an event he’s won the last seven years in a row (he’s not riding Etruschi either). Assuming they’re at the start (they will be), look for the usual list of Italian sprinters to challenge Ale Jet for the win—Gavazzi, Modolo, Ferrari, and Giananni immediately come to mind.
3. In Spain, the five-race Challenge Mallorca begins Sunday with several teams bringing large squads to the traditional Spanish season-opener. Riders can pick and choose which they days ride, making the event a popular destination for those still easing their way into the season. Notable participants include Radio Shack, Movistar, Omega Pharma-Lotto (with Gilbert and Greipel), Leopard Trek (the Schlecks), Rabobank (Freire’s always good for a win or two), Quick Step, Euskaltel, HTC-High Road, Katusha, and Garmin-Cervelo.
Geox-TMC is also slated to ride—it will be interesting to see how they fare. At this point, just making to the race with kits, cars, and bikes will be a victory. Mallorca also marks Philippe Gilbert’s first chance to race in 2011—his team was surprisingly left uninvited to the Tours of Qatar and Oman.
4. And speaking of Qatar, the six-day event begins Sunday with a 2-kilometer prologue. With the exception of Gilbert and one or two others, most of the sport’s spring classics protagonists will be racing here including Quick Step’s Tom Boonen, Leopard Trek’s Fabian Cancellara, Katusha’s Filippo Pozzato, Sky’s Juan Antonio Flecha, and Garmin’s Heinrich Haussler and Thor Hushovd.
As most days will likely end in a sprint, look for the winner of Sunday’s Prologue to take the overall honors—unless one of the race’s sprinters can ride well enough to keep himself in contention with time bonuses. Cancellara’s the obvious choice, but keep you eyes on Lars Boom. He can win a prologue and he’s just the kind of rider to slip into a breakaway—as Wouter Mol did last year to take the win for Vacansoleil. I also have a hunch that Quick Step will win a stage—with Chicchi.
It’s too bad that we’ll miss our first chance to see Taylor Phinney line-up for BMC. The American’s knee problems have returned, unfortunately just in time for a race that suited him well.
Who are you looking forward to seeing make his debut this weekend? What are your picks and predictions?
Share your comments below.