There is ample cycling fun coming up this weekend, with the UCI ProTour kicking into high gear. After an exciting Omloop-KBK doubleheader last weekend that both shocked and awed, the first weekend in March promises the same excitement, with two of the most entertaining races of the Spring both kicking off.
Friday kicks off the action with the Prologue of the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen, or the Tour of West Flanders. The three day stage race combines both climbs and cobbles to make for some great racing that almost annually features one mud and rain soaked stage. Teams are sending their Classics men here for a bit of practice, though many of the teams are comprised of secondary options that will need the fitness to support the big names. RadioShack-Nissan, BMC, Lotto and SKY all send young squads bolstered by a few experienced leaders into the fray. Keep your eye on SKY’s Mick Rogers, who is backed by a very solid cast including workhorses Alex Dowsett and Ben Swift, both of whom are capable of winning themselves.
Many of the Classics’ big men will be in Italy on Saturday for the Strade Bianche, a one-day race that takes riders through the rolling hills and mountains on the famous ‘white roads’. The spring rains often turn the roads brown, giving the gravel surface grooves of streaming water that riders avoid while climbing the steep ascents. Last year’s winner Phillipe Gilbert is now backed by the likes of 2011 Tour de France champion Cadel Evans, along with Alessandro Ballan, George Hincapie, Martin Kohler and Greg van Avermaet, giving BMC a squad with firepower to burn. Expect a strong fight from the leaders of Italian teams, especially Liquigas’ Vicenzo Nibali. Astana’s Roman Kreuziger, Garmin’s Johan van Sommeran and RadioShack’s Fabian Cancellara should also be in the mix. Cancellara won this race while riding with CSC and is always in the final group at this race.
It is way too early to be thinking about the Tour de France, unless you’re a team leader at the Paris-Nice. For Grand Tour riders, the “Race to the Sun” is an early sneak peak at other riders’ form and to test yourself. Maybe the two most committed teams for Paris-Nice are RadioShack and SKY. RadioShack sent a ‘Everybody But Cancellara’ squad to France this weekend, including both Schlecks, Andreas Kloden, and Linus Gerdemann. Except for Cancellara and Jakob Fugelsang, this is a very solid preview for their Tour de France squad come July. SKY, too, has sent their big names in Bradley Wiggins, Richie Porte, Geraint Thomas, Rigoberto Uran and Chris Froome. Thomas will skip the Tour to focus on the Olympics, but much of this squad will be together for the Tour, with the probable inclusions of Juan Anotonio Flecha and Edvald Boasson-Hagen. I’ll go out on a rather sturdy limb and pick a SKY rider to take the overall, be it Wiggins, Porte or Froome.