Funnily enough, despite what many of you believe, it’s not all about the cobbles. Racing continues apace further south of Belgium for those riders for whom the pavé, the beer and those oh so fattening frites with mayo find no resonance. In fact, we’re somewhat spoilt for choice with three races taking place today (Sunday). In southern Spain there’s the Clasica de Almeria, in southern France it’s time for Les Boucles du Sud Ardeche – Souvenir Francis Delpech, while over in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland there’s the GP di Lugano, making this a weekend with truly something for everyone.
Clasica de Almeria
As the name suggests, the 186.5km parcours starts and finishes in Almeria while traversing a large portion of the region. It follows a similar route each year and despite the three small climbs – Portichuelo (cat. 3), Lucainen (cat. 2) and La Serrata (cat. 3) – and the slight uphill stretch in the final 400 metres, it’s most definitely a race for the sprinters.
Last year neo-pro Matteo Pelucchi (Geox-TMC) surprised everyone to beat off the challenge of Movistar’s Jose Joaquin Rojas in a bunch sprint finish after two separate breakaways had been hauled back by the peloton to record his maiden professional win, and that of his team.
The most recent winners are:
2007: Guiseppe Muraglia (Acqu-Sapone) – subsequently stripped of title for positive test
2008: Juan Jose Haedo (CSC)
2009: Greg Henderson (Columbia-Highroad)
2010: Theo Bos (Rabobank)
2011: Matteo Pelucchi (Geox-TMC)
Out of the 13 teams taking part, only seven are ProTeams. Movistar’s Rojas will be out for revenge and he’ll be assisted by teammate Francisco Ventoso. Former winner Theo Bos is also taking part and his wing-man will be Graeme Brown. Maybe Koldo Fernandez will record his first win of the season for Garmin-Barracuda. [Jack will be hoping for that too - Ed.] But my money’s on German wunderkid Marcel Kittel (Project 1t4i) powering first across the finish line.
Les Boucles du Sud-Ardeche – Souvenir Francis Delpech
The 199.5km route starts in Bourg St Andreol and finishes in Ruoms taking in the sinuous Gorges de l’Ardeche and showcases the region’s splendours.
The route features no less than four climbs. In the first part of the race there’s the Belvedere des Templiers and the Cote de Razal (7km at 7.6% average) but the final part of the race is a circuit which is raced five times and takes in the Rocher de Sampzon (2km at 7.8% average) and the Cote de La Vignasse. While these obstacles serve to thin down the peloton and tire legs, for the race to the line, care also needs to be taken over the tricky hairpin bend in the middle of the last kilometre.
Unsurprisingly the French have traditionally dominated this race, the most recent winners of which are:
2007: Evgeny Sokolov (Omnibike Dynamo Moscow)
2008: Gatis Smukulis (VC La Pomme Marseille)
2009: Freddy Bichot (Agritubel)
2010: Christophe Riblon (AG2R La Mondiale)
2011: Arthur Vichot (FDJ)
In last year’s race, Arthur Vichot (FDJ) bridged up late on to a large breakaway group containing his teammate Remi Pauriol, who gave him an armchair ride to the finish enabling Arthur to cross the line ahead of the other 15 riders.
Arthur’s back to defend his title with a strong supporting cast, including Jeremy ’it’s not a breakaway if I’m not in it’ Roy, Pauriol and Pierrick Fedrigo. AG2R have a two-pronged attack force with former winner Jean-Christophe Peraud (2006) and Christophe Riblon. Romain Hardy - remember him from the Tour du Haut Var? – who was fifth last year could be in the mix, as could Team Type 1′s Julien El Fares. Endura Racing are taking part but their new man of the moment, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke won’t be competing. VC La Pomme are also fielding a strong team, including a VeloVoices favourite, neo-pro Gregoire Tarride. If I were a betting woman, I’d say FDJ-BigMat continues its excellent start to the season and wins the race.
GP di Lugano
Reigning Tour de France champion Cadel Evans (BMC) makes his eagerly awaited season entre at one of his home races. [He lives in nearby Stabio - Ed.] There are 18 teams taking part, including four ProTeams.
It’s the 66th edition of the race, which is classified 1.1 on the UCI’s European circuit. It’s been on the racing calendar since 1934 in various guises, both as a road race and as an individual time-trial. Some illustrious names have won here including Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx. It’s generally preceded by the GP dell’Insubria Lugano, but not this year. Another victim of the parlous state of the world and cycling economy?
In the first part of the race, the riders do five laps of the 18.4km Giro di Sorengo, which exits Lugano to the south along the lake’s shoreline before cutting inland at Paradiso. The route then continues down through Grancia and into Figino before hugging the banks of the lake again and following it all the way up to Agnuzzo. From there the riders will head east, just south of Lake Muzzano, before making their way back into Lugano.
Once those loops have been completed, the peloton does a further five laps of the 17.3km Giro di Davesco, which heads north out of Lugano into the suburb of Ressiga before carrying on all the way up to Canabbio. Once there the riders hang a right and head across to Davesco before turning south and back towards Lugano. They then pass down through Pregassona and back up to Viganello, before joining the lake again at Castagnola and heading back into the city centre.
It’s an undulating parcours which favours punchy climbers. The most recent race winners are:
2007: Luca Mazzanti (Panaria-Navigare)
2008: Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale)
2009: Remi Pauriol (Cofidis)
2010: Roberto Ferrari (De Rosa-Stac Plastic)
2011: Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale)
In last year’s race Basso, resident in nearby Varese, took a rare win in a one-day event beating Fabio Duarte (Geox-TMC) in a two-man sprint to the finish line. He dedicated the win to his recently deceased trainer and mentor Aldo Sassi.
With three former winners taking part – Basso, Nocentini and Ferrari – expect the racing to be fast and furious. Cadel’s not the only Grand Tour winner starting his season at this race – there’s also Lampre’s Michele Scarponi. However, they’re unlikely to figure prominently in the general classification. Instead look to their team mates such as BMC’s Amael Moinard or Lampre’s Damiano Cunego to be in the thick of the action. Or maybe Duarte, now riding for Columbia-Coldportes, will enjoy better luck in this year’s race. But, if I had to pick a favourite, I’d go with Basso to repeat his win.
For live and video coverage of the races, check out cyclingfans.com.