What’s happening in August?

The 100th Tour de France has run its course, but August sees the start of the year’s third and final grand tour, the Vuelta a Espana, one of three WorldTour events this month. August also sees two stage winners from the 100th Tour celebrating birthdays. But who? Read on to find out.

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Vattenfall Cyclassics review

When he turns 21 next Sunday, FDJ-BigMat’s Arnaud Demare will reflect back on the early present he gave himself at today’s 17th Vattenfall Cyclassics as the moment he broke into the big time. In becoming the first French winner – and youngest overall – of the German one-day race, the reigning under-23 road race world champion belied his tender age, outfoxing several of the biggest names in sprinting in the hurly-burly of an uncontrolled bunch finish.

A lethargic start

On a scorching hot afternoon in and around German’s second-largest city of Hamburg, with the mercury nudging close to 40ºC, it was perhaps unsurprising that for 190 of the race’s 245.9km the peloton’s tempo resembled that of a Sunday afternoon club ride rather than a WorldTour race. Nonetheless, danger is never far away in professional cycling, with Orica-GreenEDGE losing not one but three riders in crashes: veteran Stuart O’Grady broke four ribs and a collarbone, Daryl Impey also broke ribs and Jens Keukeleire required stitches after sustaining a thigh injury.

The day’s obligatory breakaway comprised three men – Jesse Sergent (RadioShack-Nissan), Andreas Dietziker (NetApp) and Gregor Gazvoda (AG2R La Mondiale) – and pulled out a lead of 7½ minutes before the slumbering peloton – driven by Sky, working for defending champion Edvald Boasson Hagen – finally awoke from their slumber and started to reel them in. With a little under 60km to go, BMC’s Marco Pinotti initiated what would become a seven-man attack, catching and passing the original break. They established an advantage of around 30 seconds, lighting the blue touch-paper underneath the pack, who were forced to up the pace significantly to pull them back.

Attack, attack, attack

They were finally brought to heel at the base of the third of four ascents of the Waseberg hill with 29km left, setting the scene for a frantic final 35 minutes or so of racing. The peloton fractured over the summit of the 800-metre, 8.9% climb (which features sections of 15%) as first Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM) attacked, and then a dangerous group of about a dozen riders including Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) moved off the front.

Demare claimed his biggest win so far, a week shy of his 21st birthday (image courtesy of FDJ-BigMat)

In the short hiatus before the final climb up the Waseberg a number of exploratory attacks – notably Boonen and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Sep Vanmarcke – were tried, all unsuccessful. At the foot of the climb Sagan suffered an inopportune mechanical, requiring a tiring chase back that effectively ended his victory hopes, while Lampre-ISD tried to up the pace. But the decisive move came from the unheralded Ben Hermans (RadioShack-Nissan), who jumped away over the summit and built an advantage of close to 30 seconds on the main pack, with various chase groups splintering off in between.

It was a brave attack, but one always destined for failure. The Waseberg is a steep climb, but not long enough to do sufficient damage to really enable a solo attacker or small group to build a race-winning advantage. With a downhill/flat run of nearly 15km to the finish, it requires a large group – such as the split of 30-odd riders which got away last year – to maintain any hard-earned advantage as the sprinters’ teams gather momentum. Despite an initial lack of organisation in the chase, Hermans was pulled back with 8km still to run, and after a couple of other counter-attacks the peloton was back together again by the 4km mark, ready to set up a bunch sprint – albeit a scrappy one in which no one team had sufficient numbers to control the run-in.

Under the 1km flag, Argos-Shimano, OPQS and FDJ – working for Tom Veelers, Tom Boonen and Demare respectively – jostled for supremacy. With Lotto-Belisol’s Andre Greipel breathing down his neck, the young Frenchman positioned himself perfectly to pick up the wheel of Rabobank’s Mark Renshaw as he went for a long one. Demare overhauled him with ease and, despite the crowd urging on Greipel to take a home win, held his pace to the line to take victory by two bike lengths. RadioShack’s Giacomo Nizzolo took third, just ahead of the Belgian tricolore-clad Boonen and 2011 winner Boasson Hagen.

Closing thoughts

Greipel, who dominated the sprints over the first half of the season, will be disappointed to have missed out on victory in the only ‘home’ WorldTour event on the calendar. No German rider has won the race since Erik Zabel in 2001.

However, victory confirms Demare’s good form ahead of next month’s Road World Championships, as well as providing 80 valuable WorldTour points to leapfrog FDJ over their French rivals AG2R in the team rankings. They are still in the bottom three, however, and will likely require the discretion of the UCI to guarantee their place for 2013. Nonetheless, Demare’s victory is a welcome boost for the team to add to Thibaut Pinot and Pierrick Fedrigo‘s stage wins at the Tour de France last month. They will look for more good results over this season’s six remaining WorldTour events, starting with next Sunday’s GP Ouest-France. I wonder if the birthday boy will be allowed to sit that one out, though.

Race result

1. Arnaud Demare (FDJ-BigMat) 6:03:20

2. Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) same time

3. Giacomo Nizzolo (RadioShack-Nissan) s/t

4. Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t

5. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) s/t

6. Mark Renshaw (Rabobank) s/t

7. Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Sharp) s/t

8. Manuel Belletti (AG2R La Mondiale) s/t

9. Tom Veelers (Argos-Shimano) s/t

10. Borut Bozic (Astana) s/t

Link: Official website

What’s happening in August?

The races continue to come thick and fast this month, with the Olympic time trials opening the month and the Vuelta a Espana straddling the end of it. Indeed Spain’s Grand Tour starts less than four weeks after the end of the Tour de France.

A packed calendar in August also contains four other WorldTour events and birthdays for two of the peloton’s most experienced veterans, so here are the key dates for your diary.

Olympic time trials (1st)

Where Team GB faltered in the road race in their bid to launch Mark Cavendish to victory in Saturday’s road race, in today’s time trial they have not one but two realistic shots at the gold medal. Bradley Wiggins has been unbeatable over long time trials this season – six wins in six attempts against the clock over 10km or more – while Sky teammate Chris Froome was second-fastest in both long time trials at the Tour de France. Gold plus a second medal are a realistic possibility, but current and former time trial world champions Tony Martin (Germany) and Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) will be looking to inflict double disappointment on expectant Brits. Also look out for the US pair of Taylor Phinney and Tejay Van Garderen to shine over the 44km course.

Before the men’s race, however, comes the women’s equivalent, run over the shorter distance of 29km. The partisan Brits among us will be cheering on Emma Pooley, but it’s hard to look beyond Germany’s Judith Arndt as the short-odds favourite, with Linda Villumsen (New Zealand) and Kristin Armstrong (USA) the most likely to displace her on the top of the medal podium.

Links: PreviewOfficial website

Eneco Tour (6th-12th)

This seven-day WorldTour race marks a distinct change from the parcours of the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana which sit close either side of it. Run on a combination of largely flat and undulating roads in Belgium and Holland, the race is traditionally a welcome haven for sprinters and time-trial specialists, with punchy all-rounders typically faring well in the general classification. Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen won last year’s race, his second success in three years. This year’s field will be enlivened by the return from suspension of Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank’s Alberto Contador, who will be looking to get some racing miles in his legs ahead of a tilt at the Vuelta.

The key stages this year are likely to be a pair of time trials – both team (stage two) and individual (stage six) – with the latter being followed by the concluding queen stage which finishes with circuits of the city of Geraardsbergen including repeated ascents of the Mur de Grammont (also known as the Muur van Geraardsbergen), a 1.1km climb – well known to followers of the Tour of Flanders – which includes sections of close to 20% gradient.

Link: Official website

Clasica San Sebastian (14th)

Very much a climbers’ race suiting bold puncheurs, San Sebastian is a relatively young race – it was first run in 1981 – but has already established a deserved reputation as one of the more visually spectacular races on the cycling calendar, full of coastal views and twisting, rolling roads. It also boasts a winners’ list which reads like a Who’s Who of cycling, including such illustrious names as Miguel Indurain, Lance Armstrong, Laurent Jalabert, Alejandro Valverde and 2011 winner Philippe Gilbert.

Run over a distance of close to 230km, the race is frequently decided by a final selection on the climb of the Alto de Jaizkibel, an 8km climb averaging 5.6% just under 30km from the finish.

Link: Official website

Vuelta a España (18th August-9th September)

The 67th Vuelta a España, the last of the year’s three Grand Tours, kicks off in Pamplona with a team time trial before embarking on a parcours which could only be described as vertiginous. It is one of the toughest Grand Tour routes in recent memory – rivalling even the 2011 Giro d’Italia – and includes just six flat stages and a headache-inducing 13 mountain stages, six of which conclude in summit finishes. Even the 40km individual time trial on stage 11 which neatly cleaves the race into two halves includes a climb of nearly 400 metres.

Needless to say, this is a race tilted heavily in favour of the pure climbers so expect Spanish riders to be out in force, not least a certain Alberto Contador. His most likely challenger may well be Sky’s 2011 runner-up – and, of course, second in the 2012 Tour de France – Chris Froome, if his Tour and Olympic exertions have not sapped his legs too much. The race may well remain alive right up until the penultimate stage which, as in 2010, will conclude on the monstrous 21.6 km, 6.3% ascent of Bola del Mundo near Madrid, a climb which features sections with 19% and 20% gradients in the closing 2km and could provide a spectacular head-to-head showdown for the overall.

Link: Official website

Other key races this month include the Vuelta a Burgos (1st-5th) – read Sheree’s preview here –  a key build-up race for the Vuelta a Espana and one-day races Vattenfall Cyclassics (19th) and GP Ouest France-Plouay (26th). The latter two are both WorldTour events.

Links: Vuelta a Burgos website, Vattenfall Cyclassics website, GP Ouest France-Plouay website

This month’s birthdays

A selection of some of the more notable birthdays in the peloton this month:

4th: David Millar, Garmin-Sharp (35 years old). The Scotsman is now one of the senior statesmen of the peloton, as well as wearing the mantle of anti-doping poster boy. An otherwise quiet year in which his time trial form has been largely mediocre was transformed by his breakaway win on stage 12 of last month’s Tour de France.

O’Grady creeps one year closer to 40 (image courtesy of Orica-GreenEDGE)

6th: Stuart O’Grady, Orica-GreenEDGE (39). More of a mentor and all-purpose engine than a hard-man sprinter these days, the 2007 Paris-Roubaix winner was a member of GreenEDGE’s winning team time trial squad at Tirreno-Adriatico and was part of the key breakaway at the London Olympic road race, eventually placing sixth.

6th: Jerome Coppel, Saur-Sojasun (26). Viewed as one of the great young hopes of the new generation of French riders, Coppel has so far failed to make a big breakthrough at the Tour de France, finishing 21st this year after a 14th place in 2011. He did, however, win the early season Etoile de Besseges stage race and was an excellent third overall at the Vuelta a Andalucia.

20th: Dan Martin, Garmin-Sharp (26). The cousin of AG2R’s Nicolas Roche has had an up-and-down season following his Grand Tour breakthrough at the 2011 Vuelta, where he won a stage and rode aggressively in the mountains en route to 13th overall. Strong form in the spring saw him place fourth overall at the Volta a Catalunya and then fifth and sixth respectively in the Ardennes Classics Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Flèche Wallonne. But he had a relatively disappointing Tour de France – expected to be a key aggressor in the mountains, he managed no higher than a seventh place as he finished 35th overall.

22nd: Theo Bos, Rabobank (29). The Dutch sprinter has had a relatively quiet 2012, but has continued his streak of winning stages in pairs. Two stage victories at the Tour of Turkey were added to a palmares which includes a sprint double at the 2011 Tour of Oman and a brace at the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon the previous year.

Also on the blog

As usual, we’ll be providing comprehensive race coverage all month, with previews and reviews from all the major races. Plus watch out for some additional coverage as we branch out from our traditional core of men’s road racing.

Every Tuesday, Tweets of the Week will bring you all the news that’s fit to print (in 140 characters), with focus shifting from the Olympic rings to our annual romp through the mountains of Spain as the month progresses. Our regular Friday Features will bring you in-depth analysis from the wider world of cycling. We’ll continue to find all the best images from our favourite sport, both here on the blog and via our Facebook page. And, of course, you can always chat with us on 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.