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.

Vuelta a España review: Stage-by-stage

After 23 days and 3,360km of gruelling effort, much of it uphill and frequently featuring ramps in excess of 20%, the 2012 Vuelta a España is finally over and we have a Spanish clean sweep of the podium places. Ultimately the race hinged on one apparently innocuous summit finish and a spectacular effort by Alberto Contador, which turned a race which seemed to be going very much Joaquim Rodriguez‘s way completely on its head. Here is a stage-by-stage reminder of how Contador, Valverde and Rodriguez came to dominate their home Grand Tour.

Stage 1: Pamplona, 16.5km team time trial

Recap

Rabobank topped the time-sheets for much of the opening team time trial, before being – somewhat surprisingly – knocked off at the last by Movistar‘s late bull-run around the streets of Pamplona. On his Grand Tour debut, Jonathan Castroviejo had the honour of donning the first red jersey. Just five seconds covered the next seven teams in a thrilling opening to the 2012 Vuelta.

Stage winner: Movistar.

General classification: 1. Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar), 2. Javier Moreno (Movistar) same time, 3. Benat Intxausti (Movistar) s/t.

Excitement factor: 4/5.

Stage 2: Pamplona to Viana, 181.4km

Recap

A routine bunch sprint concluded the first proper road stage of the race. John Degenkolb – who finished second, third and fourth in sprints in last year’s edition – finally achieved the top step of the podium with a well-timed final burst. The German powered past Sky’s Ben Swift and Orica-GreenEDGE’s Allan Davis in the closing metres to claim victory.

Stage winner: John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano).

General classification: 1. Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar), 2. Nairo Quintano (Movistar) same time, 3. Javier Moreno (Movistar) s/t.

Excitement factor: 1/5.

Stage 3: Faustino V to Eibar (Arrate), 155.3km

Recap

In a thrilling finale, Alberto Contador launched a sequence of stinging attacks on the final climb of Alto de Arrate, shaking off all but Alejandro Valverde, Joaquim Rodriguez and Chris Froome. However, he missed out on the time bonuses as Froome held him off for third while Valverde edged out Rodriguez for the win by a tyre’s width.

Stage winner: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).

General classification: 1. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), 2. Benat Intxausti (Movistar) +0:18, 3. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +0:19

Excitement factor: 5/5.

Stage 4: Barakaldo to Estación de Valdezcaray, 160.6km

Recap

Simon Clarke claimed his first professional win – and his first of any description in over four years – despatching Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) in a two-up sprint after the pair had ridden away from their breakaway companions. Most of the main GC contenders finished two minutes behind – except for Alejandro Valverde, who lost time in a crash after Sky split the peloton in crosswinds. Joaquim Rodriguez took over the race lead – by one second.

Stage winner: Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEDGE).

General classification: 1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), 2. Chris Froome (Sky) +0:01, 3. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) +0:05.

Excitement factor: 4/5.

Stage 5: Logroño to Logroño, 168.0km

Recap

John Degenkolb overhauled RadioShack-Nissan’s Daniele Bennati to take his second stage victory after eight circuits of Logroño. Andalucia’s Javier Chacon embarked on a long solo breakaway, gaining 12 minutes at one point, but his effort was always going to be doomed on what amounted to a day off for the GC contenders.

Stage winner: John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano).

General classification: 1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), 2. Chris Froome (Sky) +0:01, 3. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) +0:05.

Excitement factor: 1/5.

Stage 6: Tarazona to Jaca, 175.4km

Recap

Joaquim Rodriguez took the stage win from Chris Froome after Sky had helped explode a greatly reduced contenders’ group in the final kilometre of the Alto Fuerto de Rapitan. The GC riders ended up strewn all over the road, with Alejandro Valverde finishing alone in third and a dehydrated Alberto Contador fourth.

Stage winner: Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha).

General classification: 1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), 2. Chris Froome (Sky) +0:10, 3. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) +0:36.

Excitement factor: 4/5.

Stage 7: Huesca to Alcañiz. Motorland Aragón, 164.2km

Recap

On a routine flat sprinters’ stage, Sky burnt up their lead-out for Ben Swift too early. Argos-Shimano took charge when it really mattered in the final kilometre and promptly delivered John Degenkolb to his third victory.

Stage winner: John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano).

General classification: 1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), 2. Chris Froome (Sky) +0:10, 3. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) +0:36.

Excitement factor: 1/5.

Stage 8: Lleida to Andorra. Collada de la Gallina, 174.7km

Recap

Alejandro Valverde started a series of attacks and counter-attacks 3km from the summit finish on the Collada de la Gallina, and then finished it to edge out Joaquim Rodriguez for the stage victory, his second of the race. Alberto Contador‘s stinging attack in the final kilometre appeared to have earned him victory, but his two compatriots hurtled past him within sight of the line to deny him. Chris Froome couldn’t stand the pace and lost 15 seconds on the road.

Stage winner: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).

General classification: 1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), 2. Chris Froome (Sky) +0:33, 3. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) +0:40.

Excitement factor: 5/5.

Stage 9: Andorra to Barcelona, 196.3km

Recap

Yet again Alberto Contador had nothing to show for initiating a late attack, this time on Barcelona’s Montjuic hill. Rodriguez and Philippe Gilbert rode off the front of the pack near the summit and held them off all the way to the finish, with the Belgian’s superior sprint easing him to his first win of the year. Nonetheless the race leader was delighted to have put a further 20 seconds (including bonuses) into all his main rivals.

Stage winner: Philippe Gilbert (BMC).

General classification: 1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), 2. Chris Froome (Sky) +0:53, 3. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) +1:00.

Excitement factor: 4/5.

Stage 10: Ponteareas to Sanxenxo, 190.0km

Recap

John Degenkolb made it four sprint wins out of four as he dominated the bunch finish in Sanxenxo with a long-range effort. Nacer Bouhanni was second and Daniele Bennati third as the GC contenders ticked off another day on the calendar.

Stage winner: John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano).

General classification: 1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), 2. Chris Froome (Sky) +0:53, 3. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) +1:00.

Excitement factor: 1/5.

Stage 11: Cambados to Pontevedra, 39.4km individual time trial

Recap

Fredrik Kessiakoff blitzed the hilly course to claim a surprising but deserved victory in an exciting individual time trial. Alberto Contador beat Chris Froome for second, while both Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez rode the time trials of their lives to finish fourth and seventh-fastest respectively. Rodriguez retained the red jersey from Contador by a single second.

Stage winner: Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana).

General classification: 1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), 2. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) +0:01, 3. Chris Froome (Sky) +0:16.

Excitement factor: 4/5.

Stage 12: Vilagarcía de Arousa to Mirador de Ézaro, 190.5km

Recap

The day’s four-man break looked to be heading for victory before disintegrating on the super-steep final climb to Mirador de Ézaro. Alberto Contador and Joaquim Rodriguez accelerated away from their rivals on the ascent, but despite Contador’s best efforts to break him, the race leader jumped out of his wheel in the closing stages and sped away, extending his overall lead from one to 13 seconds.

Stage winner: Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha).

General classification: 1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), 2. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) +0:13, 3. Chris Froome (Sky) +0:51.

Excitement factor: 4/5.

Stage 13: Santiago de Compostela to Ferrol, 172.8km

Recap

Out of a break of seven men, it was Steve Cummings who made the decisive move to split away from his breakaway companions and ride a 4km individual time trial to victory. He was never more than a handful of seconds ahead of Cameron Meyer and Juan Antonio Flecha, but neither could bridge the Briton’s winning four-second gap. The rest of the peloton steadfastly refused to help Argos-Shimano in a forlorn chase, electing to save their energy for the three summit finishes to follow.

Stage winner: Steve Cummings (BMC).

General classification: 1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), 2. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) +0:13, 3. Chris Froome (Sky) +0:51.

Excitement factor: 3/5.

Stage 14: Palas de Rei to Puerto de Ancares, 149.2km

Recap

Alberto Contador attacked, then attacked, then attacked again on the Puerto de Ancares, blowing the GC to smithereens, before finally breaking away and establishing an 11-second cushion with half a kilometre remaining. To no avail, as yet again Joaquim Rodriguez remained calm under pressure and swept past Contador with ease with a devastating final burst. Alejandro Valverde again lost a handful of seconds, Chris Froome rather more on the first of three huge days in the high mountains.

Stage winner: Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha).

General classification: 1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), 2. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) +0:22, 3. Chris Froome (Sky) +1:41.

Excitement factor: 5/5.

Stage 15: La Robla to Lagos de Covadonga, 186.5km

Recap

Antonio Piedra soloed off the front 10km from the summit of the legendary Covadonga to claim a season-defining win for his wild-card Caja Rural team. Ten minutes behind, Contador again launched multiple attacks but ultimately he, Rodriguez and Valverde finished together as Chris Froome‘s podium hopes began to fade as he lost 30-plus seconds for the second day in succession.

Stage winner: Antonio Piedra (Caja Rural).

General classification: 1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), 2. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) +0:22, 3. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +1:41.

Excitement factor: 5/5.

Stage 16: Gijón to Valgrande-Pajares. Cuitu Negru, 183.5km

Recap

Dario Cataldo pulled away from breakaway companion Thomas De Gendt in the closing stages of one of the slowest finishes – 15 minutes to cover the last 3km – ever seen at a Grand Tour. But a little further down the road Chris Froome finally cracked to leave the Three Amigos – Contador, Rodriguez and Valverde – to slug it out. Contador was again the most aggressive, Valverde fell away and yet again Rodriguez darted ahead in the closing metres to snatch third and the final time bonus to extend his overall lead.

Stage winner: Dario Cataldo (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).

General classification: 1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), 2. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) +0:28, 3. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +2:04.

Excitement factor: 5/5.

Stage 17: Santander to Fuente Dé, 187.3km

Recap

Alberto Contador and Saxo-Tinkoff orchestrated an audacious long-range break, and on the long but comparatively mild climb of Fuente Dé Joaquim Rodriguez foundered, where he had been so confident on the big, steep climbs. Contador snatched the red jersey as an exhausted Rodriguez sustained losses of close to three minutes to drop behind Valverde into third.

Stage winner: Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank).

General classification: 1. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), 2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +1:52, 3. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +2:28.

Excitement factor: 5/5.

Stage 18: Aguilar de Campoo to Valladolid, 204.5km

Recap

A high-speed stage stretched and then fractured the peloton, leaving Daniele Bennati to edge out Ben Swift at the finish. For once, Argos-Shimano and John Degenkolb got it slightly wrong, as the German failed to win a bunch sprint for the first time in the race.

Stage winner: Daniele Bennati (RadioShack-Nissan).

General classification: 1. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), 2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +1:52, 3. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +2:28.

Excitement factor: 1/5.

Stage 19: Peñafiel to La Lastrilla, 178.4km

Recap

Philippe Gilbert powered away from the field on a tricky uphill finish. A late five-man break formed inside the final 4km which threatened to foil the puncheurs’ uphill charge. But the Belgian was helped to his second win by sterling work from teammate Alessandro Ballan and had no problem easing away from a heavy-legged Ben Swift in the final 150 metres.

Stage winner: Philippe Gilbert (BMC).

General classification: 1. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), 2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +1:35, 3. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +2:21.

Excitement factor: 3/5.

Stage 20: La Faisanera Golf to Bola del Mundo, 170.7km

Recap

Denis Menchov and Richie Porte proved to be the strongest members of the day’s breakaway on Bola del Mundo, with the Russian pulling away in the final few hundred metres to take victory. Behind him, his Katusha team captain Joaquim Rodriguez rolled the dice one more time and succeeded in distancing first Valverde and then Contador to put time into both, but not enough to change the podium order ahead of the processional final stage.

Stage winner: Denis Menchov (Katusha).

General classification: 1. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), 2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +1:16, 3. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +1:37.

Excitement factor: 5/5.

Stage 21: Cercedilla to Madrid, 115.0km

Recap

John Degenkolb underlined his mastery of the bunch sprints with his fifth stage victory. There were no changes to the general classification – with Alberto Contador duly taking the overall win –  but a sixth-place finish by Alejandro Valverde added insult to injury for Joaquim Rodriguez as the points and all-round classifications passed on to the shoulders of the Movistar rider at the death.

Stage winner: John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano).

General classification: 1. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), 2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +1:16, 3. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +1:37.

Excitement factor: 1/5.

Roll of honour

Overall winner: Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank).

Points winner: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).

King of the Mountains winner: Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEDGE).

All-round winner: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).

Team prize: Movistar.

Link: Vuelta a Espana official website