With several events starting today, hereâ€™s an early look at what to expect this weekend.
1. The Giro dâ€™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 climbsâ€”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.
Katushaâ€™s Danilo Diluca is an obvious favoriteâ€”heâ€™s won twice here before and has displayed fine fitness with a fourth-place finish Thursday in Fiuggi. I also have a feeling weâ€™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 Fridayâ€™s summit suits him in what should provide a reshuffling of the GC.
Saturdayâ€™s 214-kilometer stage from Sapri to Tropea is a largely coastal, pancake-flat affairâ€”at least until the penultimate uphill kilometer. Look for the finish to thwart the sprintersâ€™ chances for victory while putting a few inattentive GC contenders on the defensive (like Gilbertâ€™s second stage win in last yearâ€™s Vuelta). However, the stage is sandwiched between two of the biggest mountain stages the race has seen so far, so I donâ€™t expect to see any major fireworks from the raceâ€™s biggest names. Instead, look for men like David Millar, Jan Bakelants, Fabio Duarte, and Vasil Kiriyenkaâ€”men with talent to spare, but supporting roles on their teamsâ€”to duke it out for the win.
But Sundayâ€™s stage should make the prior two feel like nothing more than a stroll, as the peloton tackles the most infamous volcano in Europeâ€”Sicilyâ€™s Mount Etnaâ€”not once, but twice. Many riders have already made the trip to recon the 164-kilometer stageâ€”it starts in Messina and will likely see at least one attack from the Sicilian-born Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas. Katushaâ€™s Joaquin Rodriguez, Astanaâ€™s Roman Kreuziger, and Euskaltelâ€™s Igor Anton also bear watchingâ€”as does Geox-TMCâ€™s Denis Menchov, a rider who will appreciate Etnaâ€™s long, constant grades. While too early for the Giro dâ€™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 lâ€™Oise. A mainly flat affair, Picardie is often the first re-entry of several classics stars following a busy spring. Riders such as Skyâ€™s Edvald Boasson Hagen and Juan Antonio Flecha, Vacansoleilâ€™s Stijn Devolder, and Katushaâ€™s Filippo Pozzatto are all starting.
That said, keep your eyes on Vacansoleilâ€™s Romain Feillu, FDJâ€™s Yauheni Hutarovich, and Ag2râ€™s Anthony Ravard, three riders able to challenge for stages and the overall win. Jimmy Casperâ€™s one to watch as wellâ€”heâ€™s always good for at least one stage win. Picardie also marks Zdenek Stybarâ€™s second road race of the seasonâ€”heâ€™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. Iâ€™ll be covering the first half of the race with Bicycling Magazineâ€”you can follow me on Twitter at @BackseatDS and @BicyclingMag. Stay tuned to those sources for more.
4. Finally, we donâ€™t often cover events for espoirs, but thereâ€™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, Iâ€™d wager that itâ€™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 PavÃ© contributor Peter Horn) and the awkwardly-named Baby-dumpâ€”Lemmensâ€”Wilvo Wielerteam. Keep an eye on the results for a sneak peak at some future champions.
Enjoy the weekendâ€”and share your comments and picks below.