This weekend saw four notable races – the first two stages of the Vuelta a EspaÃ±a as well as Sunday’s Vattenfall Cyclassics and the USA Pro Criterium National Championships.
1. The Vuelta’s opening Team Time Trial turned out to be a bit harder than it looked on paper, with an early climb of about 200m in elevation gain disrupting the rhythm of some of the teams, who wound up shedding riders over the 13.5-kilometer course. It seems that some of the teams may have brought their back-up mechanics, too, as both RadioShack and Lampre had some mechanicals right off the ramp. It was a problem for RadioShack in particular, as it was their GC hopeful Jani Brajkovic who was affected by the early chaindrop.
2. When it was all settled, Leopard-Trek was on top with Jacob Fuglsang in the leader’s jersey. Brajkovic isn’t he only GC hopeful left a bit behind the 8-ball by the TTT – Igor Anton sits :28 back, and Brad Wiggins lost :42 on the stage, as did Geox-TMC’s Sastre and Menchov (should they be considered GC contenders). It’s Liquigas-Cannondale’s Vincenzo Nibali, the Vuelta’s defending champ, in best position only :04 behind Fuglsang.
3. Stage two was, as predicted, a straight-up sprint to the line. Team Sky made amends for falling apart in Saturday’s TTT by delivering Chris Sutton to the line, ahead of a disappointed Vicente Reynes of Omega Pharma-Lotto, Skil-Shimano’s Marcel Kittel, and Garmin-Cervelo’s Tyler Farrar, and Rabobank’s Matti Breschel. Daniele Benatti, who finished 6th, took over the leader’s jersey from his teammate Fuglsang.
4. Interestingly enough, Mark Cavendish played leadout man for his young teammate John Degenkolb – though not with the success that we’re used to seeing from HTC.
5. Sunday’s stage win was a nice way to end the day for Team Sky, since they started it off in fine style over in Germany at the race that proves that calling something a classic doesn’t make it a classic, the Vattenfall Cyclassic. There, Sky put another of their fast finishers onto the top step as Edvald Boasson Hagen took what is doubtless a fine victory. A scan of the results sheet shows that he didn’t exactly beat a roster full of top-tier sprinters – Quickstep’s Gerald Ciolek and Vacansoleil’s Borut Bozic rounded out the podium. Interestingly enough, the bumpy parcours shed a number of sprinters, and a late move by Quickstep’s Dries Devenyns reduced the field to only the fittest. If you haven’t been watching Devenyns yet, pay attention. He had a number of fine finishes on hard stages during the Tour. Is he laying the groundwork for a very impressive 2012? Perhaps.
6. And, back over in the United States was a very stormy Pro Criterium National Championships in Grand Rapids, Michigan that saw the race delayed several times as a fierce storm tore through, knocking course barriers over and sending riders right off their bikes. When the dust cleared, the race was re-started with 30 laps of the tight, semi-technical course. It came down to a fast sprint between Bissell’s Eric Young and Jelly Belly’s Brad Huff, with Young edging Huff in a bike throw.
7. It’s a big win for Young, a neo-pro whose career highlight includes a win earlier this year at the Little 500. That race, held at Indiana University, was popularized by the movie Breaking Away, and featured school groups racing single-speed, coaster-brake equipped Schwinns with a 69″ gear around a running track. Young’s not the only Little 500 winner to go on to the ranks of American professional cycling, but he may be the first to pull on the stars and stripes just a few months after going pro.