What’s happening in May?

Welcome to our preview of what’s happening in the world of road cycling in May. There’s no question that the big event this month is the Giro d’Italia, the first of the year’s three Grand Tours. However, there are also two other notable stage races taking place, as the world’s top racers divide their attention between racing in Italy and preparing for July’s Tour de France and Olympic Games.

So sit back and make a note in your diary of May’s key dates!

Giro d’Italia (5th-27th)

After last year’s marathon suffer-fest celebrating the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy, the 2012 edition dials down the pain a notch – but only a notch. Over 21 stages and 3,504km, the Giro is a race only for those who are strong of leg and mind. And this year the competition for the maglia rosa is more open than ever, with 2011 ‘winner’ Alberto Contador suspended and stripped of his title, leaving Michele Scarponi as the de facto defending champion.

The parcours starts slowly before building to a climax over the final eight stages. There’s plenty to keep the sprinters interested early on, with six of the first 13 stages designated as flat. But once the high mountains start on stage 14, expect the fast men to climb off their bikes en masse as the GC contenders come to the fore. Two summit finishes at the end of a marathon 12-day stint between the two rest days will punish tired legs, and then there is the daunting 2,757-metre Passo dello Stelvio on the penultimate stage – that’s 112 metres higher than the Tour de France record set on the Galibier last year. Two individual time trials – the first in Herning in Denmark, the other in Milan – bookend the race.

Link: Official website

Tour of California (13th-20th)

The eight-day Tour of California enters it seventh year as an alternative to the rigours of the Giro for riders who are looking to fine-tune their preparations for the Tour de France. This is particularly so for American riders, who have won all but one of it six previous editions. Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Levi Leipheimer is a three-time winner of this race, which this year features arguably its most difficult parcours ever, with no joy for the sprinters. Each of the first four stages features medium mountains, before a flat 30km individual time trial at Bakersfield. Stages six and seven will decide the general classification, with the peloton touching 2,200 metres en route to Big Bear Lake before the climactic queen stage climb to the summit of Mount Baldy. The final stage is a showpiece criterium starting in Beverly Hills and finishing in the heart of Los Angeles.

Link: Official website

Tour de Luxembourg (May 30th-June 3rd)

This five-day race in the home country of the Schleck brothers is also used by many riders as preparation for the Tour. It offers a solid but not overly strenuous work-out, with its testing but not extremely high climbs (the country’s highest point sits at just 560 metres), which suits both GC riders and those who specialise in the hillier Classics. This year’s race consists of a prologue followed by four road stages. Last year’s race was won by RadioShack-Nissan’s Linus Gerdemann (then riding for Leopard-Trek). Curiously, Andy Schleck has never won his ‘home’ race, although brother Frank did claim the overall classification in 2009.

Link: Official website

Look out for full previews in advance of each race here on VeloVoices, starting with the first part of our Giro preview tomorrow.

This month’s birthdays

A selection of the more notable birthdays in the peloton this month:

6th: Roman Kreuziger, Astana (26 years old). The Czech all-rounder finished in the top ten at the Tour in 2009 and 2010, and fifth at last year’s Giro. Equally adept in both one-day and longer stage races, he can boast podium finishes at major races such as Tirreno-Adriatico (this year), Paris-Nice (2010) and the Tour de Suisse (2009) and top-five placings at Amstel Gold and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Kittel has proved that Greipel is not the only top German sprinter (image courtesy of Argos-Shimano)

11th: Marcel Kittel, Argos-Shimano (24). The German sprinter exploded onto the scene as a neo-pro last year, claiming four stages of the Tour de Pologne and wins at the Vuelta, Tour de Langkawi and Four Days of Dunkirk. Already this year he has five wins, including last month’s one-day semi-classic Scheldeprijs.

12th: Joaquim Rodriguez, Katusha (33). So often the bridesmaid, ‘Purito’ finally broke his Classics duck – having recorded four second-place finishes – with a typically aggressive ride to win Flèche Wallonne. His palmares also includes five top-eight finishes at Grand Tours, including fourth places at both the Giro and Vuelta, overall victory at the 2010 Volta a Catalunya and second overall at this season’s Vuelta al Pais Vasco.

13th: Johnny Hoogerland, Vacansoleil-DCM (29). Perhaps best known for riding on bloodied and unbowed after being thrown into a barbed-wire fence at last year’s Tour, the ‘Bull of Beveland’ (he has a prominent tattoo of a bull on one arm) can often be found animating races in group or solo breaks. He is also talented enough to have recorded a fifth-place finish in the Giro di Lombardia (2009), 12th overall at the Vuelta (also 2009) and an impressive fifth overall at Tirreno-Adriatico in March.

17th: Greg Van Avermaet, BMC (27). The Belgian Classics specialist made his big breakthrough last year in winning Paris-Tours. This season he has been in consistent form, recording top-five finishes at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Strade Bianche, Ronde van Vlaanderen and Brabatnse Pijl. He also won one stage and the points classification at the Vuelta in 2008.

Boasson Hagen - the spiritual successor to compatriot Thor Hushovd? (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

17th: Edvald Boasson Hagen, Sky (25). A powerful sprinter who may ultimately become a top Classics rider, ‘Eddy Boss’ took two stage victories at last year’s Tour de France. He is also a two-time winner of the Eneco Tour (2009 and 2011). Already this year he has picked up stage victories at the Volta ao Algarve and Tirreno-Adriatico.

20th: Chris Froome, Sky (27). The Kenyan-born Froome shot into the limelight with his second-place finish at last year’s Vuelta (one place ahead of Sky teammate Bradley Wiggins). An excellent climber and time-trialist, he won the mountain stage at Pena Cabarga, and finished behind only soon-to-be world champion Tony Martin in the individual time trial.

21st: Mark Cavendish, Sky (27). For a rider only just reaching his prime racing years, Cavendish already has a palmares any professional cyclist would envy. 30 individual Grand Tour stage wins. Winner of the points classification at the Tour and Vuelta. Twice a wearer of the maglia rosa at the Giro. Milan-San Remo winner. And, just to top it all off, he is the reigning road race World Champion. All that remains for the Manxman is possibly his toughest challenge of the lot – an Olympic gold this summer.

25th: Geraint Thomas, Sky (26). The Welshman finished a creditable 31st at last year’s Tour de France but is focussing on the track this year, where he won gold in the team pursuit and silver in the madison at the recent World Championships.

26th: Mikel Nieve, Euskaltel-Euskadi (28). 2011 was a breakthrough year as Nieve emerged as a genuine Grand Tour contender. He won the queen stage (to Val di Fassa) of the toughest Giro d’Italia in recent history with a long-range solo break, propelling him to tenth overall, and then went on to finish tenth at the Vuelta too.

28th: Jimmy Casper, AG2R La Mondiale (34). Now back in cycling’s elite division with AG2R, the veteran French sprinter has the rare distinction of having both won a stage at the Tour de France (in 2006) and finished last overall as the lanterne rouge in Paris (in 2001 and 2004).

31st: Robert Gesink, Rabobank (26). The Dutchman has yet to win one of the major stage races, although he did claim the overall at the 2011 Tour of Oman. Nonetheless he has already built an impressive palmares which includes a sixth-place finish (now fifth) at the 2010 Tour, sixth and seventh at the 2010 and 2009 Vuelta, and top-three finishes at Tirreno-Adriatico, Vuelta al Pais Vasco and the one-day Amstel Gold Race.

Also on the blog

Naturally we’ll be concentrating on the Giro this month, kicking off tomorrow with the first of our race previews. We’ll also have daily recaps, as well as previews and full reviews of all the key stages, and in-depth analysis after the event. Later in the month we’ll bring you a round-up of all the action from California and Luxembourg too.

Tweets of the Week will being you all the news that’s fit to print (in 140 characters) each and every Tuesday. And our regular Friday Features will bring you more interviews over the coming month – plus don’t be surprised if there is a distinctly Italian twist to at least one Friday during May.

Whether serious or light-hearted, VeloVoices is the place to come for all the latest cycling news and views!

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