Here’s this week’s Monday Musette:
1. Lesson #378: Never discount (as I did Friday) David Moncoutié on Mont Faron in the Tour Mediterranéan. Luckily for me, The Inner Ring had my back, correctly adding the Frenchman to the list of favorites to take the final stage and the overall.
As for the rest, Daniel Martin failed to impress, coming home over a minute down. Instead, young American Andrew Talansky led the way for Garmin-Cervelo with fourth-place on the day and the overall. Saxo Bank’s Nick Nuyens finished 26th, a mediocre result for many, but a good sign for the Belgian as he attempts to rebound in time for this year’s classics.
What performances stood out to you on the first summit finish of 2011?
2. And speaking of The Inner Ring, you need to update your bookmarks and Twitter feeds as Matt’s revamped his already stellar site. Make the necessary corrections now or forever miss out on one of the most talented guys in the biz.
3. Moving forward, two races begin this week with spring classic implications: the Tour of Oman and the Volta ao Algarve, both races with challenging courses and talented start lists.
The second edition of the Tour of Oman starts Tuesday with a flat stage certain to suit the talents of World Champion Thor Hushovd, two-time Qatar stage-winner Heinrich Haussler, Mark Cavendish, Theo Bos, Tom Boonen, and the Italian prodigy, Andrea Guardini. The race’s hilly parcours should also give classics stars such as Juan Antonio Flecha, Leif Hoste, Pippo Pozzato, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Lars Boom, Greg Van Avermaet, and Matthew Goss a chance to tune their fitness, while the summit finish to Green Mountain on Stage 4 will likely offer Joaquin Rodriguez, Jakob Fuglsang, and Robert Gesink a chance to test their climbing legs.
By the end of the 6-day event, look for a true all-rounder to take the overall title. Alexandre Vinokourov’s an attractive option as is Fuglsang. And while Edvald Boasson Hagen’s a popular pick to take the win, I think the course is a bit too hard for him—even with an 18.5-kilometer time trial on the penultimate day. In the end, were I a betting man, I’d take HTC’s Marco Pinotti. He can climb better than all but a handful of the men participating and he can time trial better than the rest of the climbers. Look for the Italian to give HTC its second Arabian victory of the season.
4. On Wednesday, the Volta ao Algarve begins in Portugal. Algarve is another race featuring several men peaking for the April—first and foremost among them, Omega Pharma-Lotto’s Philippe Gilbert. Lotto was left-off the list for Qatar and Oman after the team wouldn’t commit to sending superstars Gilbert and Andre Greipel to the Gulf. Now both riders will take the start in Portugal Wednesday—a last minute change for the Belgian as he’s looking for some extra speed before the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
Algarve’s course closely resembles that of Oman, with a summit finish followed by a 17.2-kilometer undulating time trial to end the 5-day event. A true GC-contender should emerge to take the victory (Alberto Contador won the race last year).
The current start list features several intriguing GC options including Roman Kreuziger in his Astana debut, Rabobank’s Luis Leon Sanchez and Bauke Mollema, HTC-High Road’s Peter Velits and Tony Martin, Garmin’s Tom Danielson and Ryder Hesjedal, and Ag2r’s Nicolas Roche.
But the biggest question surrounding the start of Algarve centers upon whether or not Saxo Bank’s Alberto Contador will be cleared to take the start (it was revealed today that the rider could be cleared of any medical wrongdoing as early as tomorrow). If he rides, one can imagine he’ll have a bit of extra motivation to take a repeat win.
On flatter days, Garmin’s Tyler Farrar will look to continue winning sprints while Saxo’s JJ Haedo, Astana’s Allan Davis, Rabobank’s Michael Matthews, Quick Step’s Gerald Ciolek, Vacansoleil’s Borut Borzic, Sky’s Greg Henderson, Ag2r’s Lloyd Mondory, and Lotto’s Greipel will do their best to defeat him. As for classics men such as Gilbert, Garmin’s Martijn Maaskant, Quick Step’s Sylvain Chavanel, and Vacansoleil’s Bjorn Leukemans, the goal for Algarve is to stay out of trouble while building form throughout the race’s five undulating stages. Crashes at last year’s race ruined more than one rider’s spring as rainy weather and a squirrelly field sent many to the asphalt.
As for my overall picks, I think Radio Shack puts two men on the final podium again, with Tiago Machado getting the better of Andreas Kloden. If he’s racing, Alberto Contador will likely get the best of both of them—otherwise it’s Machado all the way.
5. In other news, the preliminary start list for this year’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad has been released with few surprises aside from the omissions of last year’s second and third-place finishers Heinrich Haussler and Tyler Farrar. There is still plenty of time for changes, but leaving two of Garmin-Cervelo’s talented men at home has to raise questions. While bringing Farrar and Hushovd together might be overkill, Haussler’s a breakaway threat that keeps other teams honest thereby easing the pressure on Thor and the rest of the squad to chase. It’s a bit of a surprising move if you ask me.
6. And last but not least a word about our 2011.5 kit. After seeing the press generated by Geox-TMC’s game of “will they or won’t they”, we’ve decided to delay things a bit. (In all seriousness, we’re switching suppliers and waiting for word from a few more co-sponsors.) As soon as we have more information, we’ll let you know—especially if you gave us your email address via our pre-order survey.
That’s it for today’s (somewhat delayed) Monday Musette. Thanks for reading and keep those comments coming!