With several events starting today, here’s an early look at what to expect this weekend.
1. The Giro d’Italia really heats up this weekend, with two summit finishes sandwiching a flat stage with a sting in its tail.
The fun begins Friday with the shortest road stage of the race, a 110-kilometer jaunt from Maddaloni to Montevergine di Mercogliano. While short, the stage packs a punch with two serious climbs—the first of which will likely prove no more than a warm-up for the final climb to the Catholic sanctuary known to cycling pilgrims as Montevergine.
Katusha’s Danilo Diluca is an obvious favorite—he’s won twice here before and has displayed fine fitness with a fourth-place finish Thursday in Fiuggi. I also have a feeling we’ll see Michele Scarponi make an early bid for a stage win and the maglia rosa. The Italian rode an aggressive finale in Orvieto and should find Friday’s summit suits him in what should provide a reshuffling of the GC.
Saturday’s 214-kilometer stage from Sapri to Tropea is a largely coastal, pancake-flat affair—at least until the penultimate uphill kilometer. Look for the finish to thwart the sprinters’ chances for victory while putting a few inattentive GC contenders on the defensive (like Gilbert’s second stage win in last year’s Vuelta). However, the stage is sandwiched between two of the biggest mountain stages the race has seen so far, so I don’t expect to see any major fireworks from the race’s biggest names. Instead, look for men like David Millar, Jan Bakelants, Fabio Duarte, and Vasil Kiriyenka—men with talent to spare, but supporting roles on their teams—to duke it out for the win.
But Sunday’s stage should make the prior two feel like nothing more than a stroll, as the peloton tackles the most infamous volcano in Europe—Sicily’s Mount Etna—not once, but twice. Many riders have already made the trip to recon the 164-kilometer stage—it starts in Messina and will likely see at least one attack from the Sicilian-born Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas. Katusha’s Joaquin Rodriguez, Astana’s Roman Kreuziger, and Euskaltel’s Igor Anton also bear watching—as does Geox-TMC’s Denis Menchov, a rider who will appreciate Etna’s long, constant grades. While too early for the Giro d’Italia to be won, Sunday should see the hopes of at least a few GC contenders dashed.
2. Meanwhile in France, the ASO hosts the 64th edition of the 3-day Tour de Picardie, formerly the Tour de l’Oise. A mainly flat affair, Picardie is often the first re-entry of several classics stars following a busy spring. Riders such as Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen and Juan Antonio Flecha, Vacansoleil’s Stijn Devolder, and Katusha’s Filippo Pozzatto are all starting.
That said, keep your eyes on Vacansoleil’s Romain Feillu, FDJ’s Yauheni Hutarovich, and Ag2r’s Anthony Ravard, three riders able to challenge for stages and the overall win. Jimmy Casper’s one to watch as well—he’s always good for at least one stage win. Picardie also marks Zdenek Stybar’s second road race of the season—he’s out to prove his third-place finish on Saturday in Dunkirk was no fluke.
3. In California, the 2011 Amgen Tour of California kicks-off with what looks to be a cold, snowy road race around the perimeter of Lake Tahoe. I’ll be covering the first half of the race with Bicycling Magazine—you can follow me on Twitter at @BackseatDS and @BicyclingMag. Stay tuned to those sources for more.
4. Finally, we don’t often cover events for espoirs, but there’s one in Belgium worth keeping on eye on. The Triptyque Ardennais has a list of winners including Ivan Basso, Philippe Gilbert, Danny Pate, Jan Bakelants (Thomas de Gendt finished second), and other successful professionals. In fact, I’d wager that it’s probably one of the best indicators for future success on the U23 calendar. In addition to the top Belgian amateur and developmental squads, several foreign teams will be taking the line including the Geox Fuji Test Team (led by Pavé contributor Peter Horn) and the awkwardly-named Baby-dump—Lemmens—Wilvo Wielerteam. Keep an eye on the results for a sneak peak at some future champions.
Enjoy the weekend—and share your comments and picks below.