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.

Tour de France review: The Tour in numbers

Key race facts

3,497 – In kilometres, this year’s total race distance.

87:34:47 – Total race time for overall winner Bradley Wiggins (Sky), an average speed of 39.93kph.

153 – Number of finishers, out of 198 starters.

2 – Only two riders wore the leader’s yellow jersey during the race: Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) and Wiggins.

Sagan dominated the green jersey race (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

2 – Only two riders led the green jersey points competition during the race: Cancellara and Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale). Cancellara led the competition for the first two days, Sagan for all 19 thereafter.

4 – Number of riders who led the polka dot jersey King of the Mountains competition: Michael Morkov (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Chris Froome (Sky), Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) and the eventual winner Thomas Voeckler (Europcar).

19Tejay van Garderen (BMC) led the white jersey young rider competition for 19 of the 21 stages. (Cofidis’ Rein Taaramae held the jersey for two days mid-race.)

3:57:36 – Jimmy Engoulvent (Saur-Sojasun) was the last classified finisher, three hours and 57 minutes slower than Wiggins. The final stage to Paris took 49 minutes less to complete.

The champion

32 – Age of Bradley Wiggins.

Wiggins’ dominance was built on his two TT wins (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

3:21 – Wiggins’ final winning margin over teammate Chris Froome.

1 – Wiggins became the first British rider to take overall victory at any of the three Grand Tours. Before this year, no Briton had ever finished higher than fourth.

4 – Previous best performance at the Tour, in 2009.

2 – Stages won by Wiggins during the race, both individual time trials.

4 – Wiggins has now won four major stage races in 2012: Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie, Criterium du Dauphine and the Tour.

1 – Victory at the Tour has propelled Wiggins to the top of the latest UCI WorldTour rider rankings (and consolidated Sky’s position at the top of the team rankings).

The stage winners

13 – Number of different stage winners.

Greipel increased his Tour tally from one to four victories (image courtesy of Lotto-Belisol)

5 – Number of riders with multiple stage victories: Peter Sagan, Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) won three each, while Thomas Voeckler and Bradley Wiggins claimed two apiece.

6 – Different nationalities who won stages: Britain led the way with seven, followed by France (five), Germany and Slovakia (three each), Spain (two) and Switzerland (one).

12 – Between them, British and French riders won 12 of the Tour’s 21 stages.

0 – Italian riders failed to win a single stage.

9 – Just nine of the 22 teams won stages during the race, with Sky leading the way with six – three for Cavendish, two for Wiggins, one for Froome – including the last three in a row (Cavendish, Wiggins, Cavendish).

4Mark Cavendish has now won the final stage on the Champs-Élysées in each of the past four editions.

1 – Yesterday’s win by Cavendish in Paris marked the first time the reigning world champion has won on the Champs-Élysées.

23 – Cavendish now has 23 career Tour stage wins, overtaking Andre Darrigade to move into fourth all-time. Eddy Merckx leads the way with 34.

And a few other random stats …

99 – This was the 99th running of the Tour. Prior to the start of the race, the 198 participating riders had won a total of 99 Tour stages.

The oldest swinger in town (image courtesy of RadioShack-Nissan)

40 – Age of Jens Voigt and Chris Horner, both of RadioShack-Nissan, the two oldest riders in the race. Voigt turns 41 in September, Horner in October.

22 – Age of Thibaut Pinot (FDJ-BigMat), the youngest rider in the race. Peter Sagan is also 22. The pair won four stages between them (Sagan three, Pinot one), and were the first Tour stage winners ever to have been born in the 1990s.

16 – Racing days between Mark Cavendish‘s wins on stages two and 18 – his longest ever drought between victories at the Tour.

5 – Top three finishes for Orica-GreenEDGE sprinter Matt Goss – but no wins (two seconds, three thirds).

29Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) had double cause for celebration in Paris. As well as completing the race, Sunday was also his 29th birthday.

17George Hincapie (BMC) started a record-setting 17th Tour this year. He completed all but one of them.

Some data is courtesy of Infostrada Sports.

Link: Tour de France official website

Tour de France analysis: Week 1 in numbers

Depending on how you look at it, we’re either one-third of the way through the Tour de France – because we’ve just arrived at the first rest day – or nearly halfway through it in terms of stages completed and total distance covered. However you choose to look at it, it’s been a pretty eventful race so far, so here’s a quick review of week one of the 2012 Tour in numbers.

The race

10 – Stages completed, out of a total of 21.

1,616.5 – Distance (in kilometres) covered so far, out of a total of 3,497. (That’s 46%, stat fans.)

1 – Summit finishes to date: La Planche des Belles Filles on stage seven. There are two still to come.

Stage winners

Sagan is the only three-time winner so far (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

7 – Number of different stage winners: Peter Sagan (three), Andre Greipel (two), Fabian Cancellara, Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome, Thibaut Pinot and Bradley Wiggins.

5 – Number of teams to have registered a stage win: Liquigas-Cannondale (three), Sky (three), Lotto-Belisol (two), RadioShack-Nissan and FDJ-Big Mat.

4 – Stages won by 22-year olds: Sagan (three), Pinot.

2 – Stages won by riders currently in the top 20 of the general classification: Froome (stage seven) and Wiggins (stage nine).

21 – Tour career wins for Mark Cavendish after his stage two victory.

16Peter Sagan‘s three victories to date take his 2012 win total to 16.

3 – For the first time ever, three British riders have won stages at the same Tour: Cavendish, Froome and Wiggins.

The yellow jersey

2 – Number of riders who have led the 2012 race: Fabian Cancellara (seven days) and Bradley Wiggins (three).

28 days in yellow for Cancellara (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

28Cancellara has now accumulated 28 days in yellow during his career – more than any non-overall winner, passing the record of Rene Vietto (26 days).

50Wiggins took the yellow jersey on stage seven on July 7th, one day after the 50th anniversary of the first British rider to claim the overall race lead: Tommy Simpson in 1962.

6 – Only six riders are within five minutes of the race leader in the general classification. A further six are between five and six minutes in arrears.

Other jerseys

32Peter Sagan leads the green jersey competition with 217 points, 32 more than second-placed Matt Goss. He has led the classification since winning stage one.

Morkov was the early leader of the mountains classification (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

6 – Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank’s Michael Morkov wore the King of the Mountains’ polka dot jersey for six days.

21Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) currently leads the mountains classification with 21 points. There are 27 points available on tomorrow’s stage alone.

42 – In seconds, Tejay van Garderen‘s advantage over Rein Taaramae in the young rider comperition. They are the only two riders to have worn the white jersey so far, although RadioShack’s Tony Gallopin is just three seconds behind Taaramae in third.

Miscellaneous

17  – Tour starts for BMC’s George Hincapie, a new record.

Zubeldia is the highest placed RadioShak rider in the GC (image courtesy of RadioShack-Nissan)

5 – Number of RadioShack-Nissan riders in the top 17 of the general classification: Haimar Zubeldia (sixth), Maxime Monfort (seventh), Tony Gallopin (13th), Andreas Kloden (15th) and Frank Schleck (17th).

23 – Since 2008, British riders have won 23 stages of the Tour (Cavendish 21, Wiggins and Froome one each) – only one fewer than between 1903 and 2007 .

21 – At the time of writing, there have been 21 abandonments from the race – this includes Tony Martin, who withdrew after yesterday’s time trial.

8 – Eight of the 21 riders to have quit the race are Spanish: Mikel Astarloza, Amets Txurruka, defending King of the Mountains Samuel Sanchez and Gorka Verdugo (all Euskaltel-Euskadi), J J Rojas, Imanol Erviti and Jose Ivan Gutierrez (all Movistar) and frmer green jersey and three-time world champion Oscar Freire (Katusha).

Some data courtesy of Infostrada Sports.

VeloVoices will bring you previews of each day’s stage every morning, live coverage of every stage on Twitterreviews in the evening and in-depth analysis after selected stages.

Link: Tour de France official website