You could liken the Criterium International to an amuse gueule (English: appetiser), particularly given that it’s been held on the French island of Corsica since 2010. It’s a 2.HC event on the UCI Europe Tour run by Tour organisers ASO and it’s where the 100th Tour de France will start in 99 days.
What kind of race is it?
It’s a two-day stage race run over a weekend, featuring three stages, with a short sprint stage and a short time trial on Saturday followed by a mountainous stage on Sunday. It attracts some of the sport’s biggest names and has been won in the past by such luminaries as Jacques Anquetil, Sean Kelly, Bernard Hinault, Miguel Indurain and Laurent Fignon. RadioShack’s Jens Voigt has taken overall victory five times, including three in a row between 2007 and 2009.
It was previously known as the Criterium National de la Route and first run in 1932. For many years it was viewed as an unofficial French national championship and was only opened to non-French cyclists in 1979.
The most recent winners are:
2008: Jens Voigt (CSC)
2009: Jens Voigt (CSC)
2010: Pierrick Fedrigo (Bbox Bouygues Telecom)
2011: Frank Schleck (Leopard Trek)
2012: Cadel Evans (BMC)
What happened last year?
Reigning Tour de France champion Cadel Evans (BMC) launched his Tour preparations in some style with victory at the Criterium International. Florian Vachon (Bretagne-Schuller) took the opening flat bunch sprint with Evans winning and taking the lead in Saturday’s time trial. The Aussie defended his lead in the final mountainous stage after coming in fourth behind stage winner Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ-BigMat). Evans won the yellow jersey by eight seconds, with Fedrigo second and Michael Rogers (Sky) third overall.
1. Cadel Evans (BMC) 7:03:43
2. Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ-BigMat) +0:08
3. Michael Rogers (Sky) same time
4. Lars Petter Nordhaug (Sky) +0:09
5. Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale) s/t
6. Maxime Monfort (RadioShack-Nissan) +0:23
7. Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +0:38
8. Thomas Lovkvist (Sky) +0:42
9. Hubert Dupont (Ag2r La Mondiale) +0:47
10. Christophe Riblon (Ag2r La Mondiale) +1:11
You can find our review of last year’s race here.
This year’s race
The flat 89km first stage around Porto-Vecchio will give the sprinters an opportunity to strut their stuff, leaving the general classification contenders to keep their powder dry for the next two challenges. Later that afternoon, there’s a technical 7km individual time trial, which should shake up the overall classification.
Sunday’s final stage is a 176km feast for the climbers where fireworks are anticipated on the final challenge, the Col de l’Ospedale (14.2km at an average of 6.2%). As is often the case, the average is misleading. There’s no steady gradient all the way to the top which would favour ‘diesel’-style riders able to grind a big gear all the way. Instead the gradient varies significantly with some sections over 10%. In addition, as the riders climb they can be buffeted by swirling winds. Though perhaps not this year as rainy conditions are forecast with average temperatures for this time of year, around 15°C.
Who to watch
It might be run by ASO but this is not a WorldTour race, so there’s a mix of French squads and some big names. BMC, Sky, Garmin and RadioShack all come with strong squads. However, for the overall look no further than riders who can time trial and hang tough in the mountains and there’s an embarrassment of riches to choose from.
Defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC) is an obvious favourite. He’ll be riding with Paris-Nice‘s best young rider Tejay Van Garderen, the first and only time they’ll ride together before the Tour in July.
Michael Rogers (Saxo-Tinkoff) will be flying the flag in Alberto Contador’s absence – he’s recovering from flu picked up at a wet and windy Tirreno-Adriatico. Sky bring a two-pronged attack with Paris-Nice and Tour of Oman winners Richie Porte and Chris Froome. Paris-Nice runner up Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) will be looking to go one better here as will third-placed Jean-Christophe Peraud. RadioShack have Maxime Monfort, who’s always performed well in this race.
Hoping to secure wild-card invitations to the Tour de France, Europcar have double Tour stage winner Pierre Rolland, Cofidis have Jerome Coppel and Rein Taaramae, Sojasun have Jonathan Hivert and IAM have the Paris-Nice King of the Mountains, Johann Tschopp.
If I were a betting gal, I’d say that a French rider will win the sprint stage, the overall winner will take the time trial and a Colombian will win atop the mountain stage.
March 23rd (morning): Stage 1 – Porto-Vecchio to Porto-Vecchio, 89km
March 23rd (afternoon): Stage 2 – Porto-Vecchio, 7km individual time-trial
March 24th: Stage 3 – Porto-Vecchio to Col de l’Ospedale, 176km
The Criterium International takes place on Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th March. In the UK Eurosport will be broacasting coverage on Sunday. For other options check cyclingfans.com.
Link: Official website