Here’s this week’s Monday Musette:
1. It’s only February, but if this past week’s Tour of Oman and Volta ao Algarve are any indicator, 2011 Tour de France is going to be an exciting race with a deep list of contenders. In winning both races, Rabobank’s Robert Gesink (Oman) and HTC’s Tony Martin demonstrated significant improvements in what were largely considered their two biggest weaknesses: time trialing (Gesink) and climbing (Martin).
But before we get too carried away, it’s important to note that it is indeed early in the season—a long way from the summer months when all of the Tour’s top contenders will be in prime condition. Furthermore, in Gesink’s case, Saturday’s time trial was anything but flat—the undulating course certainly suited a climber. As for Martin, Friday’s stage in Algarve finished atop the 2.7-kilometer Category 2 Alto do Malhão, an ascent that’s a far cry from the Tour’s Col du Galibier. But at 24 and 25 years of age, Gesink and Martin have shown a clear progression in their bids to become their nation’s next Tour heroes. For Gesink especially—last year’s sixth-place finisher—his improvement might be enough to make him a legitimate podium contender.
But these weren’t the only weekend performances worth noting:
2. Sky’s Steve Cummings failed to defend his lead in Sunday’s time trial and ultimately finished seventh overall in the 5-day race. But Sky has to be happy with its latest discovery—Cummings joins a growing list of homegrown talent that already includes Gerraint Thomas and Ben Swift. All signs point to a banner season for the UK, especially if these three can motivate Bradley Wiggins to get off his arse and win a few races.
3. And speaking of Cummings, check out the road in this photo—pretty cool, huh?
4. The United States has reason to believe in life after Lance thanks to the continued improvement of HTC’s Tejay Van Garderen. TVG finished second in Friday’s Algarve Queen Stage and then second again in Sunday’s time trial to give HTC the first two places on GC. It’s too soon to start talking about the Tour for Van Garderen—and luckily HTC has plenty of options so there’s little pressure for the rider to take the leap. But the Giro and the Vuelta are both good opportunities to see if the American’s ready to challenge for a top-10 finish in a Grand Tour.
5. And for you sprint fans, first Lotto’s Andre Greipel and then HTC’s Mark Cavendish each took wins this weekend, allowing their respective teams big sighs of relief. On the other hand, Garmin-Cervelo went surprisingly winless in both races, despite the presence of Tyler Farrar in Algarve and Thor Hushovd and Heinrich Haussler in Oman.
6. And speaking of Haussler, he was a non-starter in Saturday’s time trial—that can’t be a good thing.
7. Looking ahead to the Classics, BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet and Marcus Burghardt, Sky’s Juan Antonio Flecha and Edvald Boasson Hagen, and Leopard Treks’ Fabian Cancellara look to be coming along quite nicely. The first three will join Philippe Gilbert as top favorites for this weekend’s Belgian races. Cancellara’s still not listed as racing, but I wonder if that could change given his current form and Leopard Trek’s lack of wins thus far.
8. Giovanni Visconti took a well-deserved third-place in Oman; now his sights are squarely set on a win in Tirreno-Adriatico. There’s little to reason to doubt him, especially since few riders build their early seasons around Tirreno.
9. In France, Thomas Voeckler took the overall win in the Tour du Haut Var after breaking away with VC La Pomme-Marseille’s Julien Antomarchi toward the end of Sunday’s second stage. The two worked well together, quickly establishing enough of a gap to give Voeckler the overall victory. Approaching the finish line in Drauguignan, Voeckler—ever the champion—graciously waved Antomarchi through to take what will likely be the biggest victory of his team’s season.
10. Lampre’s Daniele Pietropolli won his second race of the season in Saturday’s Trofeo Laigueglia, a race that featured impressive performances by Ivan Basso, Damiano Cunego, and Alessandro Ballan. While Basso and Cunego have more long-term goals in mind, Ballan’s someone to keep an eye on in L’Eroica in two weeks time. Andf I wouldn’t be surprised to see him a last-minute starter at the Omloop on Saturday.
11. And last but not least, Saur-Sojasun’s Jimmy Engoulvent won the difficult 6.8-kilometer Prologue at the Ruta del Sol. Last year’s runner-up Jurgen Van den Broeck finished third for Lotto, a second down, and Radio Shack’s Levi Leipheimer finished fourth, at :02. But the biggest surprise was Radio Shack’s Mikel Irizar’s second-place finish, virtually on the same time as Engoulvent. In fact, Saur and Radio Shack each placed three riders in the first ten—it looks like we’re in for a dogfight down in Spain!
And that’s it for this week’s Monday Musette. This upcoming week is an important one at Pavé: we’re finishing our Season Preview, wrapping up the cyclocross season, and previewing the opening weekend in Belgium. Come back regularly for updates!
And share your comments and observations from the weekend below.