Weekend Preview: Various Stages of Grit, Gravel and Europeans

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It’s another massive weekend in Michigan cycling with the West Michigan Stage Race kicking off Saturday, along with Arcadia’s Grit and Gravel adventure on the same day. Plus, professional bike racing!

In a year with lots of decisions to make, the choice between the WMSR and the GnG was perhaps the safest one. The stage race’s second appearance has already drawn huge numbers to Grand Rapids for an early morning time trial Saturday, followed by a freaky fast criterium in the afternoon.  The crit is devastatingly flat, with exactly zero feet of elevation gain. Sunday’s road race offers some rolling hills but nothing decisive, though the fatigue of the first day’s big efforts may play strange tricks on racers not used to putting in so many hard miles in quick succession.

The Arcadia Grit and Gravel takes place Saturday and looks to be a showdown for the history books. Watch for a duel between Einstein Racing’s Jorden Wakeley and North Country Cycle Sport’s Mike Anderson, as it’s been every time these races have toed the line together. In this race, each will have the added support and tactical threat of a top notch teammate, with Jason Lowetz (and many more Men In Black) playing the role of super-domestique for Wakeley and NCCS’s other top threat, John Cowan, looking to added pressure on the rider. Riders like Shawn Davison and Michael Simonson will be happy to be under the radar and take advantage of any inattention.

On the tube, tours of Italy and California will truly hot up this weekend with some big finishes in the mountains. California’s first mountain stage is today, with an achingly long climb to Big Bear Lake serving as a cruel, cruel preview to the finish atop Mt. Baldy tomorrow. With 2011 champion Chris Horner well back on the GC, he will be given a bit of leeway, but not much. Garmin’s Dave Zabriskie is leading the race, but has multiple teammates in position to defend and attack should he fall back on these climbs, namely Tom Danielson.

The Giro d’Italia, too, finally hits the summit finishes. After a few hilly routes and hilltop finishes, the Giro’s last sprint stage is today, followed by two true mountain stages back to back. Saturday’s stage features two massive ascents lumped in the back third of the route, almost assuring some serious attacks on one or both of the climbs. Sunday’s stage features a CAT 1, 2 and 2 climb all in the second half of the race. Not only will we have a clear idea of who the real contenders are, we will most likely have eliminated all but a few GC contenders.

Sunday also features the UCI World Cup Mountain Bike stop in La Bresse, France. The fourth stop of the year, it’s also the last chance for racers like Todd Wells, Emily Batty, Lea Davison and many others to make their case for Olympic selection in London. It’s the biggest race of the season thus far for that very reason, so expect a full turnout and some of the most aggressive racing on the trail until London. The Men’s favorite has to be Nino Schurter, fresh off a huge win in Nove Mesta na Morave last week. Jaroslav Kulhavy’s resurgence should be a good sign of a challenge and of building form for later in the season, however.

There’s your weekend, folks. Good luck to everyone racing and enjoy the professionals, too.

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