The Criterium International is a rather bizarre affair, running over the course of the weekend but featuring three stages, with a time trial running alongside a 90km stage on Saturday. It’s quite a popular race, with some of cycling’s biggest names at present competing to win a title won by some of cycling’s biggest names of days gone by.
What kind of race is it?
This year sees the 81st running of the Criterium International, a race won in the past by the likes of Jacques Anquetil, Sean Kelly, Bernard Hinault, Miguel Indurain and Laurent Fignon. However, look at its past winners and you’ll notice that prior to 1979 they were all French – that’s because it was only opened to foreign riders after that date.
Despite this, it’s not actually a race on the French mainland. Interestingly (well, for geography geeks like me), it’s run on the island of Corsica, just north of the Italian island of Sardinia.
It’s known as a ‘mini-Tour de France’, due to the parcours, which consist of a time trial, flat stage, and mountain stage.
Perhaps the most notable incident in the race’s history is from 1997, when a horse jumped onto the course as the peloton rode by, and only left it late on in the stage. It’s a scene which has become famous, and is a scene in the film Amélie. Press play below, and shed a tear:
The most recent winners are:
2007: Jens Voigt (CSC)
2008: Jens Voigt (CSC)
2009: Jens Voigt (CSC)
2010: Pierrick Fedrigo (Bbox Bouygues Telecom)
2011: Frank Schleck (Leopard Trek)
What happened last year?
Frank Schleck (Leopard Trek) won the overall classification, after winning the mountainous first stage and holding on to keep the maillot jaune.
In the sprinter-friendly stage two, it was Simon Geschke (Skil-Shimano) who took the victory, with Andreas Kloden (RadioShack) winning the time trial.
Vasil Kiryienka (Movistar) finished second, with Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) third. It was an impressive race for the eastern European duo, with both having superb opening stages and doing enough to hold on to the podium.
1. Frank Schleck (Leopard Trek) 7:13:12
2. Vasil Kiryienka (Movistar) +0:13
3. Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) +0:30
4. Alexandre Geniez (Skil-Shimano) +1:14
5. Tiago Machado (RadioShack) +1:15
6. Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R La Mondiale) +1:16
7. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Cervelo) +1:19
8. Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ) +1:23
9. David Lopez Garcia (Movistar) +1:25
10. Sergey Lagutin (Vacansoleil-DCM) +1:25
This year’s race
Stage one is the ride which the sprinters will be licking their lips with glee at. 90km of more or less flat terrain culminates in a slight drag uphill. However, it should certainly be one for the sprinters to contest.
The second stage is later in the afternoon: a very short 6.5km individual time trial, which is unlikely to have a major bearing on the general classification.
The single stage on Sunday will bring the race to a close in style. 179km around the south of Corsica takes in a total of five climbs, ending in the enormous climb of the Col de l’Ospedale (14.2km at an average of 6.2%), which the likes of last year’s winner Frank Schleck should be eagerly anticipating.
Who to watch
RadioShack-Nissan’s Jens Voigt is a rider that cycling fans always look out for, regardless of the race. But, having won it many times previously, this year he’s going for a record-breaking sixth win. His teammate and last year’s winner Frank Schleck is also obviously one to watch.
BMC’s Cadel Evans will provide a stern challenge, as will the likes of Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R La Mondiale), Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Barracuda), David Moncoutie (Cofidis), Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Chris Froome (Sky).
The Criterium International takes place on Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th March. For TV coverage check cyclingfans.com.
Link: Official website