What’s happening in April?

With focus shifting from Flanders to the Ardennes via northern France, April promises to be an action-packed month as the Spring Classics season reaches its climax. But with the Giro d’Italia less than five weeks away, the world’s best stage racers and sprinters will also be preparing hard for the year’s opening Grand Tour. Here’s our monthly summary of the key races to watch out for this month, and some of the more notable birthdays being celebrated.

Races

With seven races March was the busiest month of the year in terms of WorldTour events, but April runs it a close second with six more taking place. The month is bookended by a pair of six-day races: the Vuelta al Pais Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country), which starts today and finishes on the 6th, and the Tour de Romandie (23rd-28th).

Tour de Romandie LogoPais Vasco is characterised by large numbers of climbs of modest altitude but frequently steep gradient. Each of the five road stages preceding the concluding individual time trial contains a minimum of five categorised climbs, with the last of these packing a whopping ten into its 166km. Last year Samuel Sanchez and Joaquim Rodriguez shared four stages between them, with the former emerging victorious overall.

As it did last year, Romandie opens and closes with time trial stages, the first of these a short prologue, with the penultimate stage four from Marly to Les Diablerets the sole high mountains test. Bradley Wiggins won here in 2012 as part of his preparation for the Tour de France.

... and the 'Hell of the North'

In between, the Spring Classics season comes to an end. First there is the ‘Hell of the North’, Paris-Roubaix (7th), with its fabled 27 cobbled sectors. Last year Tom Boonen completed the last of his four 2012 Classics victories with a breathtaking 55km solo breakaway. Sadly the Belgian champion will be absent after his crash at the Ronde yesterday.

Liege Bastogne Liege logoThen come the three hill-packed races which constitute Ardennes Week: Amstel Gold (14th), Flèche Wallonne (17th) and Liège-Bastogne-Liège (21st), with signature climbs such as the Cauberg, Mur de Huy and La Redoute holding near mythical status. After Philippe Gilbert had swept all three races in 2011, last year Astana riders claimed the first (Enrico Gasparotto) and last (Maxim Iglinskiy) of these, with Joaquim Rodriguez triumphant at Flèche Wallonne.

Elsewhere in Europe there are plenty of other races in April. The two most notable semi-Classic one-day races are the sprinters’ race Scheldeprijs (3rd) and the more punchy Brabantse Pijl (10th). Meanwhile the most prominent stage races include the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon (12th-14th), the distinctly vertical Giro del Trentino (16th-19th) and the more sprinter-friendly Tour of Turkey (21st-28th).

Birthdays

There is a varied assortment of birthdays this month, but let’s kick off with a couple of names we can expect to see featuring across the remaining Spring Classics races.

Image courtesy of Europcar

Can Turgot go one better in Roubaix this year? (image courtesy of Europcar

Astana’s Maxim Iglinskiy won only one race in 2012 but what a race to choose! The Kazakh rider took victory in Liège-Bastogne-Liège shortly after his birthday and he will presumably be foregoing cake and celebrations until he has attempted to defend his title – he turns 32 on the 18th, three days before L-B-L. Europcar’s Sebastien Turgot turns 29 on the 11th, just four days after Paris-Roubaix, the race in which he finished second last year. The largely unheralded Frenchman is riding steadily improving form, with his eighth place at yesterday’s Ronde van Vlaanderen following (in reverse chronologocal order) 10th, 12th and 15th-place finishes at E3 Harelbeke, Dwars door Vlaanderen and Milan-San Remo.

Three big-name Grand Tour riders all turn 33 this month. Defending Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins (Sky), 2009 Vuelta winner and last year’s runner-up Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and 2011 Tour podium finisher Frank Schleck (RadioShack-Leopard) will each be blowing out 33 candles on the 28th, 25th and 15th respectively. Almost but not quite in the same boat, Ag2r’s John Gadret, third overall and a stage winner at the 2011 Giro, is 34 on the 22nd.

One GC win already in 2013 for Martin - and possibly a third rainbow jersey? (image courtesy of OPQS)

One GC win already in 2013 for Martin – and possibly a third rainbow jersey? (image courtesy of OPQS)

One multiple world time trial champion (Fabian Cancellara) celebrated his birthday in March – April sees the turn of current back-to-back time trial rainbow jersey Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), who turns 28 on the 23rd. Another rising time-trialist, Movistar’s Jonathan Castroviejo, will be 26 on the 27th, but the Spaniard already holds the distinction of having worn the leader’s red jersey for two days at last year’s Vuelta. Younger still, Orica-GreenEDGE’s neo-pro Luke Durbridge will be just 22 on the 9th, but the cherubic Aussie is already a two-time national time trial champion.

Finally, two riders on French teams. Cofidis’ Rein Taaramae is in his sixth year with the team and yet will be only 26 on the 24th. The Estonian has a string of good results in big races – a stage at the Vuelta, third at the Volta a Catalunya, Criterium International and Tour of Romandie, fourth at Paris-Nice – but has yet to achieve his first big overall victory. Europcar sprinter Bryan Coquard, on the other hand, has made an immediate impact in his first pro season, picking up two wins apiece at both Etoile de Besseges and the Tour de Langkawi. He’s 21 on the 25th.

Happy birthday one and all!

Also on the blog

After brief breaks over the Easter period, our Talking Tactics and AntBanter columns return, with Tim focussing on the reasons behind Fabian Cancellara’s tactical tour de force in Flanders. And you can be sure Kitty will have plenty to say about Her Beloved’s victory at the Ronde van Vlaanderen – where she was close enough to touch the sacred haunches – in our fortnightly podcast next Monday.

Of course, there’ll be plenty more in Tweets of the Week, as well as in our Friday Features and our newly-launched Saturday recipe column The Musette.

We’ll keep you in the loop and fully informed with our previews and reviews of all the month’s biggest races. And then we’ll gear up for the start of the Giro d’Italia with a week of comprehensive previews to bring you the low-down on the teams, the riders and the stages behind the year’s first Grand Tour.

Plus there will be much, much more on both our Facebook page and Twitter.

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.

What’s happening in March?

March sees the European racing season really hit its stride with one big race after another throughout the month. All the big names will come out to play, with two major stage races early in the month followed by the first two of the Monuments, the five most prestigious one-day Classics on the calendar. Nearly a quarter of the 2013 WorldTour events (seven out of 29) take place in this month alone. Here’s a quick preview of March’s key dates.

Races

Tirreno-Adriatico logoLet’s kick off with the seven WorldTour races this month. After January’s little amuse-bouche of the Tour Down Under, March brings us the two biggest stage races of the spring, each of which represents a key stepping stone ahead of the Grand Tours. Last year the winners of these two events both finished on the Tour de France podium: Paris-Nice (3rd-10th) was the first of Bradley Wiggins’ four stage race victories, the last being his Tour triumph, while Tirreno-Adriatico (6th-12th) was won by Vincenzo Nibali, who went on to add podium finishes at Milan-San Remo and Liège-Bastogne-Liège en route to a third-place finish in Paris.

Will Milan-San Remo cease to be a sprinters' Classic?

Milan-San Remo (17th), of course, is the first of the five Monuments. The so-called ‘Sprinters’ Classic’ will also be targeted by stage racers and puncheurs – Nibali and Fabian Cancellara were third and second respectively last year – with the late climbs of the Cipressa and Poggio offering big attacking opportunities. Peter Sagan has openly stated this race is his main target for the spring, but watch out also for previous winners Simon Gerrans (2012), Matt Goss (2011) and Mark Cavendish (2009), as well as rising sprint star John Degenkolb.

Ronde van Vlaanderen logoFrom the Friday after Milan-San Remo to the Sunday of the following week comes the trio of Flandrian Classics which were all won by Tom Boonen in 2012: E3 Harelbeke (22nd), Gent-Wevelgem (24th) and the Ronde van Vlaanderen, or Tour of Flanders (31st). Each of these offers a testing combination of cobbles and punchy climbs which favours those who can best combine power, speed and sheer guts, or those brave enough to seize an unexpected opportunity with both hands.

In between we also have Spain’s second-most important stage race. The Volta a Catalunya (18th-24th) is a daunting, mountainous event which is generally won by a climber.

Strade Bianche logo 2013Outside of the WorldTour events the calendar is brimming with races – the UCI Europe Tour alone has 35 races in March. The key one-day races to look out for are everyone’s favourite nouveau-Classic, Strade Bianche (2nd), with its iconic images of the peloton kicking up clouds of dirt from the white gravel sterrati which give the race its name, and Dwars door Vlaanderen (20th), the warm-up act before the three major Flanders races. There is also the two-day, three-stage Criterium International (23rd-24th) – held on Corsica, where the 2013 Tour de France will kick off – and the Three Days of De Panne (26th-28th). The winners of these four races in 2012 were, respectively, Fabian Cancellara, Niki Terpstra, Cadel Evans and Sylvain Chavanel, which provides an indication of how prestigious each of these events is despite lacking WorldTour or Monument status.

Birthdays

For some reason, March is a relatively barren month in terms of rider birthdays, with several teams requiring no cakes and candles whatsoever until April. Indeed, many of the more notable birthday boys are of the climbing rather than sprinting persuasion. Make of that what you will.

Igor Anton - 30 this month (image courtesy of Euskaltel-Euskadi)

Igor Anton – 30 this month (image courtesy of Euskaltel-Euskadi)

We’ll start with perennial Vuelta and Ardennes Classics contender Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi), who turns 30 tomorrow, the 2nd. He shares his birthday with Sylvester Szmyd (Movistar), one of the most feared climbing domestiques in the business, who will be 35. Add to that Szmyd’s teammate Benat Intxausti, who was tenth in last year’s Vuelta and will be 27 on the 20th, and 2012 Tour of Luxembourg winner Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), who will be celebrating his 28th birthday on the 22nd and you already have the makings of a formidable fantasy cycling mountain train.

March also sees the birthdays of a couple of notable stage winners from the 2012 Vuelta. BMC’s Steve Cummings won one of the few non-summit finishes with a gritty late solo breakaway, while Dario Cataldo (Sky) won the punishing finish at the top of Cuitu Negru. The pair will turn 32 and 28 respectively on the 19th and 17th of the month.

Also celebrating this month will be two men who are more comfortable on flat roads than sloping ones. Europcar’s Sebastien Chavanel – younger brother of Sylvain and husband of VeloVoices guest columnist Sophie – will be blowing out 32 candles on the 21st. Meanwhile Lampre sprinter Roberto Ferrari, who was as well-known for causing a major crash at last year’s Giro as he was for later winning a stage, marks the big three-oh on the 9th.

Oh, and lest Kitty thinks I’ve forgotten, some fella named Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) will be 32 on the 18th. He’s won a race or two in his time, apparently.

Happy birthday one and all!

Also on the blog

The Musette logoWe know how obsessive cyclists can be about their food, so later this month Sheree will be starting up a new weekly recipe column, The Musette, packed full of healthy and delicious dishes.

This adds to our stable of regular features. Every fortnight(-ish) brings our VeloVoices podcast on Mondays and AntBanter on Thursdays, in addition to Kitty’s Tweets of the Week (every Tuesday) and Tim’s Talking Tactics (every Wednesday). Plus, of course, there’s our weekly Friday Feature, where we aim to bring you the best in interviews, photography and other exclusive content. The month kicks off with an interview with photographer Rhode Van Elsen, available later today.

And we’ll continue to keep you up to date with the very best race reviews, analysis and opinion, with coverage of all seven WorldTour races plus selected others, starting with Strade Bianche tomorrow (Saturday).

Plus there will be much, much more on both our Facebook page and Twitter.

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.

What’s happening in February?

With the 2013 season now under way, we have a brief hiatus in the WorldTour until Paris-Nice next month. But that isn’t to say February is quiet in terms of racing – far from it. Many of the big names in the pro peloton launch their campaigns this month, some in distant, exotic and warm locales such as Malaysia, while others will be braving some downright wintry conditions as the European season gets going. Here is a summary of what we will be watching over the next few weeks.

Races

Tour of Qatar logoThere are three big stage races in Asia in quick succession during February. The Tour of Qatar (3rd-8th) is really one for the sprinters. Tom Boonen has won the overall here four times, including last year. Injury will prevent him from defending his title, but OPQS are sending a half-decent substitute in his place: Mark Cavendish.

Tour of Oman logoThe Tour of Oman (11th-16th) has only been on the calendar since 2010. It favours riders who can both climb a bit and time trial well, as evidenced by its roll call of past winners: Fabian Cancellara, Robert Gesink and Peter Velits.

Tour de Langkawi 2013 logoLast but by no means least, Malaysia’s ten-day Tour de Langkawi (21st-2nd March) is a climber’s race packed with sprint stages. The race has been won in each of the past four years by riders from Androni Giocattoli – twice by Jose Serpa, now with Lampre – while Farnese Vini’s Andrea Guardini (now Astana) has won 11 stages in two years.

In Europe there are no fewer than 18 UCI-sanctioned races this month, mostly in the heartlands of France, Spain, Belgium and Italy.

Tour Mediterraneen logoThe big stage races in France this month are the five-day Tour Méditerranéen (6th-10th) and the shorter Tour du Haut Var (16th-17th). Both favour climbers, although the former is slanted more towards stage racers while the latter is more of a Classics-style affair. Last year Endura’s Jonathan Tiernan-Locke won both races as part of an impressive early season surge which prompted his move to Sky for this season. There is also the one-day Classic Sud Ardèche (24th), which tends to be a more ‘domestic’ affair. Eight of the race’s 12 winners are French, most recently Remi Pauriol (FDJ) last year.

Vuelta-a-Andalucia-2013-logoIn Spain, we have the four races which make up the Challenge Mallorca (3rd-6th), a combination of flat and hilly parcours popular with teams looking to fine-tune their preparations for the bigger races ahead. This is followed later in the month by the four-day Vuelta a Andalucia (17th-20th) – also known as the Ruta del Sol – which last year was won by Alejandro Valverde, his first overall stage race victory since his return from his doping ban. And February closes with the Clasica de Almeria (27th), a flattish sprinter-friendly race.

We loved the excitement of Omloop ...

Belgium offers up a series of one-day semi-Classics. Firstly there is the weekend double-header of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (23rd) and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne (24th). The former was one of the hidden gems of last year’s calendar, with Garmin’s Sep Vanmarcke achieving a rare feat – defeating Tom Boonen during his annus mirabilis – while Mark Cavendish claimed the latter. Three days later comes the hillier Le Samyn (27th), where the balance between sprinters and Classics men is more even.

The Italian season gets off to a relatively quiet start, with only the one-dayers Trofeo Laigueglia (16th) and GP Camaiore (28th) of note. The first of these is very much a sprinter’s race, the latter a climber’s.

Volta ao Algarve 2013 logoLast but by no means least Portugal hosts the mountainous Volta ao Algarve (14th-17th), the first of many races dominated by Sky (and won by Richie Porte) in 2012, while Switzerland hosts the GP di Lugano (24th), which has been won in recent years by both stage racers/climbers and sprinters, but is particularly popular among the Italian contingent, who have won six of the last seven editions.

Birthdays

Bernie will no be short of birthday wishes from his many fans (image courtesy of Francesca Starbuck)

Bernie will no be short of birthday wishes from his many fans (image courtesy of Francesca Starbuck)

It’s Valentine’s Day this month, and the 14th also happens to be the 36th birthday of BMC’s Cadel Evans. No wonder the 2011 Tour de France champion is nicknamed ‘Cuddles’, eh? Speaking of which, perennial ladies’ favourite and former Cav-minder Bernhard Eisel (Sky) turns 32 on the 17th, and I’m sure there’s no shortage of female admirers who would gladly cuddle up to him.

February will also see a number of Grand Tour contenders blowing out the candles on their birthday cakes. 2008 Olympic champion and 2011 Tour de France polka dot jersey Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel Euskadi) will be 35 on the 5th, while Lotto Belisol’s Jurgen van den Broeck, four times a top ten finisher in Grand Tours including a pair of fourths in France, hits the big three-oh today. Many happy returns, Jurgen!

23 years young for Quintana (image courtesy of Movistar)

23 years young for Quintana (image courtesy of Movistar)

One of Jack’s riders to watch, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) will be 23 on the 4th. He’s not the only young ‘un who turns a year older during February, as Elia Viviani (Cannondale) – who bookended his 2012 with wins at the Tours de San Luis and Beijing – will be 24 on the 7th.

Classics specialists are also well represented this month, with Garmin’s Johan Vansummeren (Paris-Roubaix, 2011) and IAM’s Heinrich Haussler (who was edged out at the 2009 Milan-San Remo by one Mark Cavendish) celebrating birthdays on the 4th and 25th respectively.

Finally, a mention for an old personal favourite of mine. Sandy Casar is starting his 14th consecutive season riding for FDJ and turns 34 tomorrow (the 2nd). In his long career, he has won stages at the Tour de France three times (in 2007, 2009 and 2010), and is a strong enough all-round rider to have finished sixth overall at the Giro and in the top 30 at the Tour in each of the last five years.

Happy birthday one and all!

Also on the blog

In addition to the very best race reviews and analysis, we’re going to be expanding on our weekly columns over the course of February. Of course, the ever popular Tweets of the Week will hit the blog every Tuesday, with our Friday Feature continuing to bring you the best in interviews, photography and other exclusive content.

Talking TacticsTim will be launching his new Talking Tactics column next Wednesday, in which he delves into the race strategies employed by riders and teams. And Thursday will become the regular slot for AntBanter, which we hope will eventually become a weekly column.

Watch out for more new columns as the year progresses, with Sheree cooking up some new ideas too.

VVbackground_podcastAnd, of course, keep an eye open either on the blog or on iTunes for the VeloVoices Podcast, which will be available to download on selected Mondays during the year.

Plus there will be much, much more on both our Facebook page and Twitter.

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.