European national road race championship round-up

New French champion Nacer Bouhanni (image courtesy of nacerbouhanni.free.fr)

“Today is the happiest day of my life!” beamed Nacer Bouhanni on winning his first national championship, with new Belgian champ Tom Boonen describing the win as “something special”. For cycling geeks worldwide this single weekend of racing is almost as exciting and intriguing as the rather better publicised three-weeker which it precedes.

Not only does the race determine national champions and give riders a nice addition to their palmares, but also the right to wear their national colours for the year. The likes of Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain have all won their respective championships and have had the honour to be the sole rider in the peloton flying their national flag.

The excitement is heightened by the fact that the races are purely one-day affairs, and therefore every rider in the peloton can dream of donning their nation’s colours, particularly in sprint finishes and unpredictable weather conditions. While riders tend to participate in their usual teams, it often boils down to ‘every man for himself’ nearer the finish.

Below is a quick round-up of the most noteworthy of this weekend’s national champions.

France – Nacer Bouhanni

21-year old Nacer Bouhanni‘s remarkable start to the season has excited French cycling fans greatly, reinforcing his potential by taking the tricolore. But one Frenchman who may not be so delighted is his FDJ-BigMat teammate Arnaud Demare, who he narrowly pipped to the line in an exciting sprint finish after 256.2km in miserable conditions.

Bouhanni gave an infectiously enthusiastic interview after the race, where he described it as “the happiest day of my life!” He didn’t however express great sympathy for his teammate who so narrowly missed out:

We like each other, but in a finish like this, things are clear. The strongest wins.

Belgium – Tom Boonen

Like Bouhanni, Tom Boonen continued the best start to a season of his career (albeit a rather longer career) with another win, as he rode away to take his second national title. Boonen – who has won the two great Classics Ronde Van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix this season – sprinted out of a five-man breakaway to take the victory, with AG2R’s Kristof Goddaert narrowly behind.

Boonen, who targeted this championship along with the Olympic road race, said he was “overjoyed”:

This was a real goal, I am overjoyed. The Belgian champion’s jersey is still a highly respected one in the peloton. Each life has its ups and downs. Now, I have my share of bad luck behind me. This year, it’s going good. I have to try and harvest the fruit of my hard work and aim at the last targets of this year.

Netherlands – Niki Terpstra

Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Niki Terpstra took his second Dutch title, this time in emphatic fashion after going solo with 40km remaining. He finished over two minutes ahead of Rabobank’s Lars Boom, in another of the many races run in grim conditions.

Terpstra said that he “surprised” himself with his performance:

I’m happy about my performance. I have to say that I surprised myself. We were in a little group and I tried to accelerate to split the group and make it smaller but I remained alone. At that point I took the risk and I did a time trial. I like these kinds of races with bad weather conditions. It’s my second title, and the first win was great, but this one, with a solo ride, is even better!

Italy – Franco Pellizotti

Franco Pellizotti got his return from a two-year ban off to an excellent start, as he claimed the Italian title in Borgo Valsugana. The Androni Giocattoli rider attacked as the final 13km loop began, and won by a mammoth 27 seconds. Danilo Di Luca (Acqua & Sapone) and Moreno Moser (Liquigas-Cannondale) finished second and third respectively.

Pellizotti emphasised the significance of the national championships after the race, describing it as his “number one goal” adding:

At 400 metres to go, I knew I’d won and was able to enjoy it. I wish that it could have never ended. I must thank Androni for the great trust they have shown in me. After they confirmed my appointment I was able to train in the best possible way for this race.

Great Britain – Ian Stannard

As we have come to expect, Sky dominated the British national championships, with Ian Stannard and Alex Dowsett taking a one-two. Former winners Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas chose to concentrate on Tour de France/Olympics preparation along with Mark Cavendish, missing the event in North Yorkshire.

Stannard rode to the finish alone, attacking out of a breakaway which included teammate Dowsett. After the win, he reflected on the honour of wearing the red, white and blue:

It’s really nice to keep [the jersey] in the team. There’s been so many great riders wear it over the years. It will be really cool to ride the Classics and just race in it. That will be really special.

Luxembourg – Laurent Didier

There was a shock at the Luxembourg national championships as Frank Schleck – seemingly constantly donning his national colours – was beaten by RadioShack-Nissan teammate Laurent Didier in rainy conditions.

Schleck attacked out of a break of nine first, but AG2R’s Ben Gastauer stayed locked onto his wheel. Didier and Schleck then proceeded to trade attacks in a bid to break Gastauer, with Didier eventually wriggling free. Gastauer came across in second place, with Schleck third.

Didier spoke about his first victory as a professional:

I’m incredibly happy with this result. It’s my first pro victory and pro title, so I’m really happy. It’s an honour to wear the colours of your country.

Germany – Fabian Wegmann

Garmin-Sharp’s Fabian Wegmann won his third German national title and his first race in two years in a sprint finish, with RadioShack’s Linus Gerdemann and Leopard-Trek CT’s Julian Kern second and third respectively. A relieved Wegmann described his feelings:

I didn’t win a race last year, so this is huge. I have already seen that I am on track, but as an individual competitor, of course it’s difficult. I played a game of poker and then put everything on the sprint.  I knew, because I was the fastest.

In brief

Below is a simple list of most – but not all – of the current national champions:

Australia: Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE)

Belgium: Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)

Canada: Ryan Roth (SpiderTech-C10)

Croatia: Vladimir Miholjevic (Acqua & Sapone)

Czech Republic: Milan Kadlec (ASC Dukla Prague)

Denmark: Sebastian Lander (Glud & Marstrand)

Estonia: Tanel Kangert (Astana)

France: Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ-BigMat)

Germany: Fabian Wegmann (Garmin-Sharp)

Great Britain: Ian Stannard (Sky)

Ireland: Matthew Brammeier (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)

Italy: Franco Pellizotti (Androni Giocattoli)

Kazakhstan: Assan Bazayev (Astana)

Latvia: Aleksejs Saramotins (Cofidis)

Luxembourg: Laurent Didier (RadioShack-Nissan)

Moldova: Alexandr Pliuschin (Leopard)

Netherlands: Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)

Norway: Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky)

Poland: Michal Golas (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)

Russia: Eduard Vorganov (Katusha)

Slovakia: Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale)

South Africa: Robert Hunter (Garmin-Sharp)

Spain: Francisco Ventoso (Movistar)

Switzerland: Martin Kohler (BMC)

Ukraine: Andriy Grivko (Astana)

USA: Timothy Duggan (Liquigas-Cannondale)

Friday Feature: The Brits are coming

Are we on the verge of a golden era of British road cycling? While Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins grab the headlines and the attention of casual fans, it is the strength in depth of British riders which is raising eyebrows among the cognoscenti. While Cavendish was winning a brace of stages at the Tour of Qatar last week, 21-year old Andrew Fenn (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) bagged a double at the Mallorca Challenge, while Endura’s Jonathan Tiernan-Locke won two stages plus the overall classification at the Tour Mediterraneen. It was an unprecedented week of success for British cycling.
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