Here at Velo Voices we love to talk about cycling, and nothing delights us more than the opportunity to talk to each other and to fellow fans about the sport. In the third of a four-part series to kick off 2012, we take a look at the big races coming up in 2012.
Races to watch in 2012
Which races are we hoping to attend this year?
Kathi: I want to go to all of them. However, unless God throws a suitcase full of cash down on me, that might not be possible. Definitely going to the end of the Tour in Paris – I do every year and love it every time. I would love to go to the opening weekend in Liege – so many great chances to see the riders up close, so that’s a real possibility. I’m chomping at the bit to go to a spring classic but I suspect that might be a cobblestone too far at the moment. But you never know! Kitty Fondue [that’s Kathi’s alter ego, the one against whom Cancellara has taken out the restraining order – Ed] might be on the barricades! Oh, and the Olympics – I live in Richmond so they nearly ride through my living room in the road race…
Sheree: Living in France, I’m at a distinct advantage to the rest of you, with a number of races literally on my doorstep. I’m planning on seeing (in chronological order) Tour of Haut Var, Paris-Nice, Milan-San Remo, GP Miguel Indurain, Tour of Basque Country, Giro, Tour of Switzerland, Classica San Sebastian, Vuelta and World Championships. There’s one notable omission, I’m not planning on watching live any stage of the Tour this year. Well, that’s what I’m saying at the moment. Who knows what’ll happen as July approaches.
Kathi: Wow, Sheree, that’s some race schedule! I think the only ones we might overlap on would be Tour de Suisse (if I’m lucky enough to get a business meeting in Switzerland at the time to pay for the airfare like I did last year) – but if I’m going, I’ll let you know and maybe we can find one another on the barricades!
Tim: Sadly I’m a frustrated armchair fan. With two under-fives to manage – and number three due to arrive between Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege – I will struggle to get to races this year, although if we can manage the logistics I’ll target the two Tour stages that start and finish in Rouen or maybe the Tour of Britain. Oh, and the Olympics, of course. Thank God for Eurosport, that’s all I can say.
Jack: I’m with you Tim, I’m afraid that I’m not going to be able to get to any major races this year. Hopefully the Tour of Britain will be within a reasonable distance from Manchester (through the city centre would be perfect!) and I’ll be able to get along to that.
Tim: I like it, for two main reasons. Firstly it is more varied, with more sprint stages and the toughest climbs not arriving until deep in the final week to ensure the maglia rosa is not decided until the very end. And secondly we won’t have a repeat of last year’s farcical situation where all the sprinters withdrew halfway through the race and the points competition effectively became a shadow version of the GC. It’s not as soul-crushingly tough as last year’s edition – but it’s more than tough enough.
Sheree: It’s a more measured race. I feel last year’s got a little out of hand. I know it was to celebrate the unification of Italy but it rather blew up in their faces by effectively being over by stage nine.
Kathi: Nice to see that they’ve seen sense on the routing. I think it’ll be a good Giro this year for all the reasons you mention, Tim. I still think the one that Basso won in 2010 was my favourite – with Evans playing an epic part in it. And the mud stage. Loved that.
Jack: I do love the madness of the Giro, but I’m in agreement that last year went a little bit OTT. It should make for a much closer contest, and I’m rather excited to see the riders climb the highest point in Grand Tour history over the Passo Stelvio on the penultimate stage, which will of course determine the overall winner.
Sheree: You have to hand it to Christian Prudhomme, after the past two editions honoured the Pyrenees and Alps respectively, he’s gone for what looks like a more traditional style Tour. Plenty of time-trialling, the most kilometres since 2007, and only three summit finishes. But they’re tough summits. He’s also urged the riders not to restrict their reconnaissance just to the summit finishes. Advice they ignore at their peril.
Tim: I really like it. It definitely bucks the recent Grand Tour trend of loading the dice in favour of the pure climbers. With an increased emphasis on time-trialling, you have to think the parcours plays in favour of defending champion Evans and Contador (if he rides). For sure, Andy Schleck cannot count on making one big attack in the mountains, unless he significantly improves his TT performances. That’s a good thing in my eyes.
There is also plenty for the sprinters, and with HTC-Highroad no more I think we will see less predictable sprints and more winners. There are several new climbs too, which adds to the variety, even though it’s a shame there is no Ventoux or Alpe d’Huez.
Kathi: I like it because it means, with the TT element, the climbers (that’s you, Andy!) will need to just go all out at every opportunity. No more dicking around and putting off the attacks for another day (which drives me crazy!) And I think we’ll have a wild card in this year – maybe a young rider taking his chances or an older rider, wily enough to figure it all out and sneak some time past the main contenders. I’m looking forward to it!
Jack: I’m rather reserving judgement over this race route, as I thought that last year’s was phenomenal. I’m worried that this one is a bit over-conservative in terms of lack of climbing, but on the bright side that should mean that the summit finishes that we do see should be nothing short of spectacular, and hopefully the more traditional race route will mean there will be less of the first week madness we saw last year, when the field was decimated by crashes.
What other races are you particularly looking forward to?
Kathi: I’m starting to become a real classics devotee – they’re for the hard men, the big men, the men who just ride their guts out and leave it all on the cobbles! They’re so punishing – one of the things I love about cycling is the suffering (so sado-masochistic!) and this is big boy suffering. This is suffering and looking like you’ve been dragged through a dirt hedge at the end. Backwards. I think Thor is going to come back strong for Paris-Roubaix and it’ll be another epic struggle so if I had to pick one, that’s the one.
Sheree: Frankly, I look forward to all the races. Okay, maybe not the Tour of Beijing. Two of my favourites are those hard-man cobbled classics where I’ll be rooting for Tom Boonen and hoping to see him duke it out with the best of the rest.
Kathi: It would be good to see Tom and his magnificent Boonens make a stand at the classics again.
Jack: I am a lover of the classics. Without doubt they are my favourite races. I love the aspect of who dares wins that comes with one-day racing, and how the likes of Paris-Roubaix (my personal favourite!) really do separate the good riders from the best. You need everything to win it: luck, skill, strength, grit and determination. I’m already brimming with excitement.
Other than that, anything else! Like Sheree, I look forward to all of the racing. The Giro is my favourite Grand Tour, with the Tour and the Vuelta not far behind. I’m eagerly anticipating the season getting underway, and all of this writing is making me even more impatient.
Tim: I will always have a soft spot for the Vuelta simply because it often throws up new names for the future. Beyond that, I’m really looking forward to seeing whether Philippe Gilbert can repeat his 2011 form in the spring classics, and whether Fabian Cancellara can bounce back after being man-marked out of contention. If I had to choose one one-day race, though, it would be Paris-Roubaix.
Tim: On the whole it can only be a good thing, both commercially and in terms of building participation in developing nations. I hope it won’t be long before we see WorldTour races in Africa.
Having said that, the inaugural Tour of Beijing was distinctly underwhelming despite its spectacular setting. Okay, it takes any new race a while to settle, but the parcours was deadly dull – a paucity of decent climbs and too many flat stages which concluded with long, straight finishes – and the pollution levels were a real concern.
Sheree: I’m in favour of globalisation; the sport won’t survive without it. I’m looking forward to seeing whether the Africans can repeat their success at athletics on bikes. I don’t see why not given time, training and opportunity. Then there’s the Asians. Surely it won’t be long before the Chinese are a force on two wheels.
However I worry about the UCI being involved in the promoting and running of events, such as the Tour of Beijing. They can’t be responsible for handing out event licences, deciding the event calendar and then profiting from promoting their own events. Haven’t they heard of segregation of duties and good corporate governance?
Tim: Totally agree. It’s like the separation of church from state, isn’t it? Whatever the UCI’s intentions, managing both sides of the equation leaves them wide open to accusations of a conflict of interest.
Kathi: I agree with you, Sheree. Conflict of interest with bells on! But as for the races themselves, they need to actually mean something and not just be an exercise in making a bunch of money while transporting riders all over the world to ride half-heartedly. The Tour Down Under is a big success but it took some time to bed in so the right race will succeed.
Jack: I think that the globalisation of the sport is necessary, and to be honest if the racing is exciting then I don’t really care where it is. Unfortunately the Tour of Beijing wasn’t a race to set your heart pumping, but nevertheless it was their first go at holding a WorldTour race – they still could get the formula right yet.
Tim: Quite right, Jack. I’m sure the Tour of Beijing will improve, and could one day turn into quite a spectacle if they get it right.
That’s it for this round-table. See you all for the final part of our discussion on Monday!
If you would like to add your voice to the discussion, please feel free to add a comment below. And look out for the final part of our round-table on Monday, where we will have a look at our favourite riders and teams for 2012.