If Saturdayâ€™s Montepaschi Stradebianche is any indicator, weâ€™re in for a treat over the next few weeks. I canâ€™t remember a time in which it seemed as if every possibly spring classic protagonist was on track to be at his best for his preferred event. Milan-San Remo, the cobbled races, the Ardennesâ€”everyone looks as if heâ€™s ready to fire!
1. Philippe Gilbert responded to his poor showing in the Omloop last weekend with a terrific win Saturday. Gilbertâ€™s clearly on target for Milan-San Remo and Flandersâ€”if he manages to avoid crashes and sickness.
2. As for BMCâ€™s Alessandro Ballan and Greg Van Avermaet, the duo continues to ride impressively, unfortunately with no wins to show for their efforts. If he plays his cards right, Ballan could become BMCâ€™s man for Flandersâ€”and maybe MSR. But watch-out for George Hincapieâ€”he finished with the lead group Saturday and has enjoyed a trouble-free season thus far.
3. And letâ€™s give credit to third-place finisher Damiano Cunego, who seems to have regained his old swagger (although heâ€™s built us up only to let us down in the past). Cunegoâ€™s sights are set on the Ardennes classicsâ€”races in which heâ€™s fared well in the past. Heâ€™s likely heading to Tirreno now, before using Pais Vasco as his final preparation for Amstel, Fleche, and Liege.
4. If you read our Preview Friday, you werenâ€™t surprised to see Team Type 1â€™s Jure Kocjan just miss the podium. I hope the team signed him to a 2-year deal this past off-seasonâ€”heâ€™s my front-runner to become this yearâ€™s Peter Sagan. Too bad his team wasnâ€™t selected for Tirreno-Adriaticoâ€”or the Giro for matter.
5. Fabian Cancellara took fifth Saturday, all the proof we needed that the Leopard Trek riders is once again ready to dominate. Is another San Remo in the cards for the Swiss rider? Pencil him in now for the win in Tirrenoâ€”with a TTT and an ITT, thereâ€™s little reason to doubt his chances.
6. Last word on lâ€™Eroicaâ€”how can it be possible that no one saw what might have been the best race of the season so far? Hopefully RCS figures something out for next year.
7. Meanwhile, Alberto Contador won the mountain stage and the final ITT at the Vuelta de Murcia, defeating Saur-Sojasunâ€™s Jerome Coppel and Geox-TMCâ€™s Denis Menchov in the process. Speculation is already running rampant as to whether Coppel will be declared the winner if and when Contador is suspended. Regardless, France is already giddy over itâ€™s newest GC contender. Which begs the question:
Given the success theyâ€™ve had so far, will Saur-Sojasun be the best French team in this yearâ€™s Tour de France? Discuss.
8. Speaking of French teams, Europcar was not one of the 25 teams invited to the Ardennes Classics Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Making the list for both races were French wild cards Cofidis, FDJ, and Saur-Sojasun, as well as Belgian squads Landbouwkrediet, TopSport Vlaanderen-Mercator and Verandas Willems-Accent. Skil-Shimano made the cut as well. Clearly, despite what they might be saying publicly, it could be said that the ASO is making an attempt to protect regional teams in their race invitations. But if that were indeed the case, then why is Team NetApp riding Paris-Roubaix while Belgian squads such as Topsport-Vlaanderen and Landbouwkrediet are left at home?
9. As suspected, HTCâ€™s John Degenkolb and An Postâ€™s Niko Eeckhout won the final two stages in the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen, but were unable to unseat Radio Shackâ€™s stranglehold at the top of the GC.Â Eeckhout will become very popular once he decides to hang it up and get behind the wheel of a team carâ€”at least in Belgium.
10. And speaking of behind the wheel, if I were Stijn Devolderâ€™s DS, Iâ€™d fine him one case of Westvleteren 12 every time I saw his butt at the back of the peloton. I caught a bit of todayâ€™s Paris-Nice during lunch, and there he was, at the wrong end of the action. Thomas De Gendt seems to know how itâ€™s done, right? Maybe he can give Devolder a lesson.
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