Welcome to our preview of what’s happening in the world of road cycling in June. With the Giro done and dusted, this month is all about the build-up to the start of the biggest race of them all: the Tour de France. The two major build-up races will give all the key contenders for Paris a chance to blow away the cobwebs and get a good workout under racing conditions, although those with great form may wish not to show their hand entirely at this point. With the eyes of the world and the entire peloton gazing down on the riders, it will be interesting to see who is racing flat out and who is holding back just a little bit.
So sit back and make a note in your diary of June’s key dates!
Critérium du Dauphiné (3rd-10th)
ASO’s little sister to the Tour, the eight-day Critérium du Dauphiné remains a key event for many of the top contenders ahead of the main event, with last year’s winner Bradley Wiggins (Sky) returning to southern France to defend his title. He will face stiff opposition from top GC men such as reigning Tour champion Cadel Evans (BMC), Giro runner-up Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and 2010 Vuelta champion Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), not to mention teammate Chris Froome, who edged out Wiggins for second place at the Vuelta last year.
A short 5.7km prologue is followed by three lumpy stages to loosen the legs ahead of a lengthy 53.5km time trial which will provide some clear pointers towards individual form, with Froome and time trial world champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) likely to set a high benchmark for Wiggins to measure himself against. This is then followed by three high mountain stages to decide the overall classification, taking in a number of familiar climbs such as the Grand Colombier (stage five) and the Joux-Plane (stage six) before an awkward long uphill drag to the ski station at Chatel which is nicely set up for attacks and counter-attacks.
Link: Official website
Tour de Suisse (9th-17th)
Overlapping with the Dauphiné by two days (as usual), the nine-day Tour de Suisse will play host to all the key Tour riders not present at the preceding race. Much more so than the Dauphiné, this is a race for the climbers, even more so than in most recent years, which have tended to be more balanced in nature, with the last three editions each featuring two time trials. The defending champion is Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).
After an opening 7.3km time trial around Lugano, it is straight into the high mountains on stage two with a hors catégorie summit finish at the ski resort of Verbier. The next four days are largely lumpy rather than mountainous before a flat day on stage seven finally offers some incentive for the sprinters to bother turning up. The general classification will be settled on the final two days – no concluding ITT this year – starting with an HC finish at Arosa before the last stage takes in two HC climbs before a second category summit finish which should be hotly contested.
Link: Official website
Tour de France (30th June-22nd July)
Of course, both the Dauphiné and the Tour de Suisse are mere hors d’oeuvres ahead of the main course, which this year starts in the Belgian city of Liège before its traditional finish on the Champs Élysées three weeks later. Cadel Evans will, of course, be back to defend his title, but this will be the strongest peloton of any race this year, with all the top GC men and sprinters and most of the best climbers present to battle it out.
This year’s parcours is slanted more towards the all-rounders than the climbers, with a long 53.5km ITT – not uncoincidentally, the same length as at the Dauphiné – on the penultimate day. Before that the high mountains will feature just two summit finishes, demanding that the pure climbers must attack at every opportunity, with an absence of the Tour’s legendary climbs – Ventoux, Alpe d’Huez, Galibier – this year. It is a course which should favour the likes of Evans and Bradley Wiggins over 2010 champion Andy Schleck.
Link: Official website
Look out for full previews in advance of each race here on VeloVoices.
This month’s birthdays
A selection of some of the more notable birthdays in the peloton this month:
2nd: Tyler Farrar, Garmin-Barracuda (28 years old). The American sprinter is one of an elite band of men to have won stages at each of the Grand Tours, completing the set after he won on Independence Day at last year’s Tour. He is also a consistent performer in the flatter spring Classics, winning the Scheldeprijs in 2010 and collecting several other podium finishes. He was second to Marcel Kittel at this year’s Scheldeprijs.
7th: Steven Kruijswijk, Rabobank (25). The young Dutch climber finished 18th at the 2010 Giro and eighth last year, and will be hoping to emerge as a dark horse for a high finish at the Tour.
8th: Jose Joaquin (J J) Rojas, Movistar (27). The consistent Spanish sprinter finished second to Mark Cavendish in the points standings at last year’s Tour despite not finishing in the top two on a single stage. His best results have tended to come in his home nation, where he has won stages of both the Volta a Catalunya (2011) and the Tour of the Basque Country (this year).
10th: Andy Schleck, RadioShack-Nissan (27). The newly-crowned 2010 Tour de France winner (following Alberto Contador’s suspension) has had a quiet 2012 campaign so far, but will be looking to improve on his runner-up spot last year when the race kicks off in Liège.
22nd: Jeremy Roy, FDJ-BigMat (29). The French breakaway specialist won a stage at Paris-Nice in 2009, but is perhaps best known for his exploits at the 2011 Tour, when he seemed to be on the attack virtually every day. He finished ninth overall at Bayern Rundfahrt last week.
22nd: Andreas Kloden, RadioShack-Nissan (37). So often the bridesmaid, never the bride. Kloden was overshadowed by Jan Ullrich for the first half of his career, but nonetheless has twice finished second at the Tour. He has also won major stage races such as Tirreno-Adriatico, the Tour de Romandie, Tour of the Basque Country, and even in the twilight of his career remains one of the top time-trialists in the sport.
22nd: Thomas Voeckler, Europcar (33). Two long, battling stints in the maillot jaune at the Tour (in 2004 and last year) have forever cemented Voeckler’s place in cycling folklore, and his familiar tongue-hanging-out style is often visible near the head of the peloton seeking out opportunities to attack. One such swashbuckling long-range break brought him victory at Brabantse Pijl in April.
24th: Robbie McEwen, Orica-GreenEDGE (40). McEwen retired after last month’s Tour of California with just a single win in 2012 – a low-key criterium in Singapore – to his name, but it was enough to ensure he registered a victory in his 17th consecutive season. Best remembered for his improvisational style, hopping from one team’s lead-out train to another, the Australian collected 12 wins each at the Giro and Tour and has now moved into an advisory capacity with Orica-GreenEDGE. There can be few better coaches to learn from when it comes to the art of sprint tactics.
27th: Taylor Phinney, BMC (22). After a promising first season in 2011 in which he won the prologue at the Eneco Tour and finished fourth overall, Phinney exploded into the limelight at last month’s Giro, winning the opening time trial and wearing the maglia rosa with distinction for three days.
29th: George Hincapie, BMC (39). The veteran American has ridden a record 16 Tours de France and has been a key wing-man in nine victories – all seven of Lance Armstrong’s wins, Alberto Contador’s first in 2007 and Cadel Evans last year – as well as being a crucial part of Mark Cavendish’s lead-out train in 2008 and 2009. Despite riding in the service of others for almost his entire career, Hincapie has worn the Tour’s coveted yellow jersey (for two days in 2006) and is a fine cyclist in his own right, as a steady stream of victories and an impressive seven top-ten finishes at Paris-Roubaix will attest.
30th: Sylvain Chavanel, Omega Pharma-Quick Step (33). The combative Frenchman can often be found sniffing out breakaways or attacking on Classics-style finishes, a tactic which has brought him three Tour de France stage victories and two days in the yellow jersey in 2010. But he is also a versatile rider, having been French national champion in both road race and time trial disciplines. His palmares also includes wins in hilly one-day semi-Classics Dwars door Vlaanderen and Brabantse Pijl, and high finishes at stage races such as Paris-Nice, where he was third overall in 2009.
Also on the blog
We’ll be building up to the start of the Tour de France with coverage of the key-tune up events – the Dauphiné and the Tour de Suisse – and previews in the week leading up to the start of the race. Once it gets under way, we’ll bring you daily coverage and ad hoc analysis of all the key battles and tactics within the peloton.
As always, Tweets of the Week will being you all the news that’s fit to print (in 140 characters) every Tuesday – expect it to take on a distinctively jaune hue by the end of the month. And our regular Friday Features will bring you lots more in-depth views from the wider world of cycling, starting with an interview and some great shots from photographer Danielle Haex later today.
Whether serious or light-hearted, VeloVoices is the place to come for all the latest cycling news and views! Pro cycling for fans, by fans.