It’s a huge weekend for biking around the world. Here’s what to watch for.
The World Cup returns with the best mountain bikers in the world heading to the Homeland for the third leg of the 2012 season. The Nove Mesto na Morave course was one of the most well-liked of 2011, gaining rave reviews from racers and fans alike. Jaroslav Kulhavy dominated at his home race last year, walking with his bike across the line well ahead of the rest of the field. The Czech King hasn’t been even close to his 2011 form this year, though he’ll be motivated to do well in front of his fans and get his first win in the World Champions’ jersey on the World Cup tour. Nino Schurter has been near the front at all times this year, taking two wins and placing second at Houffalize behind Julien Absalon. The two are the old guard and seem to be enjoying a bit of a renaissance in an Olympic year.
The Women’s race will be just as exciting and perhaps even closer. Emily Batty, Catherine Pendrel and Maja Włoszczowska will have the opportunity to thrive on a course featuring long, gradual climbs with winding technical sections on the descents. The Nove Mesto trail system is almost perfect for Batty, who climbs better than almost anyone in the Women’s division and does especially well on longer ascents. For Wloszczowska, the Czech Republic race as close as she’ll get to a home race, just a ways off from the Polish border. She’ll be motivated and in top shape for the race after showing improving form over the last few stops.
The Giro leaves the pure-pancake stages behind for a while and hits the rippling roads that breakaways love. Saturday’s stage to Rocca di Cambio features a low mountain finish with a CAT 3 climb along the route as well. The finish climb is a CAT 2 but lacks the gradients necessary to create massive gaps. Nonetheless, climbers that are down on the GC will look to gain back a few seconds, so watch for fireworks lit on the matches of Jose Rujano and Frank Schleck, two minutes and one minute back from GC favorite Joaquim Rodriguez, respectively. John Gadret, too, may need to try something but the climb isn’t long enough to suit the purposes of the Frenchman.
Sunday offers up another hair-comb stage with small climbs throughout the 229km from Sulmona to Lago Laceno. Riders take on another slope to the finish on the Colle Molella, just over 500 meters high, before a slightly flat run into the line. Again, the ascent isn’t enough to break up the race, but there are certainly precious seconds on the road here. A smart breakaway Saturday or Sunday might take the maglia rosa off the shoulders of Garmin’s Ramunas Navardauskas. Garmin has Ryder Hesjedal well-placed in third, eleven seconds back, but a break that finishes with a minute or two gap will probably have at least one rider close enough to take the overall lead or jump into the top twenty on GC. Garmin will have a lot of work to do this weekend.
Check for livesteam links on the Facebook page and enjoy the racing, everyone!