Tour of Austria preview

The 64th edition of the Tour of Austria [you mean not everybody’s at the Tour de France?!? – Ed] – or the Osterreich Rundfahrt to give its correct name – kicks off on Sunday 1st July and finishes eight stages later the following Sunday. It attracts a mix of World Tour (six), Pro Continental (eight) and local Continental (four) teams and provides an attractive alternative for those riders more at home in week-long stage races, those teams that didn’t get Tour invites, racers that have already ridden the Giro and young up-and-coming talent.

What kind of race is it?

An eight-stage race covering 1,153.9km, the Tour provides a number of challenging, mountainous stages but also gives the sprinters and time-triallists an opportunity to shine. The Tour is classified as a 2HC race, just below a ProTour race, on the UCI Europe circuit.

The past five winners are:

2007: Stijn Devolder (Discovery Channel)

2008: Thomas Rohregger (Elk-Haus Simplon)

2009: Michael Albasini (HTC-Columbia)

2010: Riccardo Ricco (Ceramica Flaminia)

2011: Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana)

What happened last year?

While it was a bleak day in France where team leader Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) crashed out of the race, the sun was shining in Austria as Fredrik Kessiakoff took the final general classification, having assumed the lead after a brilliant victory on stage two  – his maiden professional win – which the team, and he, staunchly defended. The GC podium was completed by runner-up Leopold Konig (NetApp) and former Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre (Geox).

RadioShack’s sprinter Robbie Hunter took the first stage before the GC was turned upside-down on the second day’s summit finish on the HC Kitzbuheler Horn, when Kessiakoff soloed off to victory and the leader’s jersey over a minute ahead of Mauro Santambrogio (BMC) and Konig. On day three, Astana preserved their man Kessiakoff’s lead as Jens Keukeleire (Cofidis) won the sprint from a group of over 20 riders on the uphill finish.

Stage four saw Alexandre Geniez (Skil-Shimano) leave his six breakaway companions behind on the monster climb of the Grossglockner. Sky’s hard-as-nails Ian Stannard won stage five by outsprinting his breakaway companions, while Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) took a welcome victory on stage six – his first since a stage in the 2008 Vuelta a Espana – narrowly beating new Irish champion Matthew Brammeier (HTC-HighRoad) and Daniele Bennati (Leopard-Trek).

Newly crowned German time trial champ Bert Grabsch (HTC-Highroad) took stage seven’s 30km individual time trial ahead of young New Zealander Jesse Sergent (RadioShack), while Kessiakoff rode the time trial of his life to finish fifth, putting more time into the competition. Sprinter Daniele Bennati (Leopard-Trek) claimed the final stage, while Kessiakoff finished safely in the pack to secure an unexpected victory. Astana were top team while Van Avermaet won the points jersey, Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) the mountains jersey and Konig was best young rider.

1. Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) 26:59:26

2. Leopold Konig (NetApp) +2:28

3. Carlos Sastre (Geox) +3:05

4. Thomas Rohregger (Leopard-Trek) +3:59

5. Denis Menchov (Geox) +4:02

6. Mauro Santambrogio (BMC) +4:34

7. Morris Possoni (Sky) +4:36

8. Jan Barta (NetApp) +4:46

9. Geoffroy Lequatre (RadioShack) +4:59

10. Andrey Mizurov (Astana) +5:09

This year’s race

The Tour of Austria debuts for the first time in Innsbruck before ending, eight days later, for the 55th time in the capital, Vienna. Riders will  cover 1,153.9km – including a 24km time trial –  and 12,900 metres of climbs including the famous Kitzbuheler Horn and the Grossglockner.

The first stage, with both the start and finish in Innsbruck, features five laps of a 30km long course. The climbing starts on the second stage, which finishes atop the Kitzbueheler Horn. Stage three is undulating but finishes on the flat, offering the sprinters a chance of victory.

Day four heralds the queen stage, with the HC Grossglockner midway. That marks the end of the major climbs, although the fifth stage, the longest at 228.3km, ends with a short but steep (up to 22%) climb up to Sonntagberg.

The sprinters will have a further opportunity on the sixth stage, and the time trial specialists the following day. The race finishes as usual in Vienna, where the overall winner will be crowned.

Who to watch

Defending champion Kessiakoff is taking part in the Tour de France, but nonetheless Astana are looking to mount a strong defence of the title with Tour of Turkey runner-up Alexandr Dyachenko supported by newly crowned road champion of Kazakhstan, Assan Bazayev and every commentator’s nightmare, Yevgeniy Nepomnyachshiy. [Every editor’s nightmare too! – Ed]

We'll be watching Carlos Betancur  (image courtesy of Acqua & Sapone)

We’ll be watching Carlos Betancur (image courtesy of Acqua & Sapone)

BMC are pinning their hopes on Brent Bookwalter, Steve Morabito and Ivan Santaromita. Following his third place in the Italian national time-trial championships, Marco Pinotti – winner of the final time trial at the Giro d’Italia – will be looking to take the 24.1km time trial on the penultimate day.

The race also features last year’s runner-up Czech Loepold Konig (NetApp) and a number of Austrians who will be out to impress in their home race including former race winner Thomas Rohregger (RadioShack-Nissan). Those high mountains are going to suit the diminutive climbers such as Giro del Trentino winner Domenico Pozzovivo (CSF-Colnago) and young Colombian and recent Trofeo Melinda winner Carlos Betancur (Acqua & Sapone). At VeloVoices we’re going to be keeping an eye on the latter, number 91. Let’s see what he can do.

Race details

July 1st: Stage 1 – Innsbruck Circuit, 153km

July 2nd: Stage 2 – Innsbruck to Kitzbuheler Horn, 157.4km

July 3rd: Stage 3 – Kitzbuhel  to Lienz, 141.8km

July 4th: Stage 4 – Lienz to Skt. Johann/Alpendorf, 141.3km

July 5th: Stage 5 – Skt. Johann/Alpendorf to Sonntagberg, 228,3km

July 6th: Stage 6 – Waidhofen/Ybbs to Melk, 185.2km

July 7th: Stage 7 – Podersdorf am Neusiedler See, 24.1km individual time trial

July 8th: Stage 8 – Podersdorf am Neusiedler See  to Wien, Burgtheater, 122.8 km

The Tour of Austria starts on Sunday 1st July and concludes on Sunday 8th. For live coverage check

Link: Official website