Friday, 6 April 2012

News Digest 06.04.12

Energiewacht Tour Stage 3 - Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco Stage 5 - Ballan questions Pozzato's Ronde tactics - No Paris-Roubaix for Leukemans - Argos-Shimano will race the Tour

Energiewacht Tour Stage 3
Stage report and results
Stage 3 - click to enlarge
(image credit: Energiewacht Tour)
Stage 3 (Friday 6th) consists of six laps of an 18.4km circuit  around the Oldambtmeer lake (53°10'16.18"N 7° 1'31.82"E). It begins on Hoofdstraat by a church (53°11'40.37"N 7° 0'36.38"E), then heads briefly south before rounding the southern edge of the water. At 800 hectares, Oldambtmeer is one of the largest lakes in the Netherlands and is completely artificial, having been created as part of an environmentally sustainable project that includes Blauwestad, a new village designed specifically to encourage bicycle use - since the Dutch in the rest of the country are already well and truly in love with the bike, it seems likely that the locals here are going to turn out in huge numbers to see the race.

Kirsten Wild
(image credit: AA
After passing between the two smaller lakes on the western side, the riders follow the road along the southern banks and then turn north onto the N967. They arrive at Oostwold and then head west along Huningaweg, back to Hoofdstraat and on to the finish line located at the same point they started. It's another very flat parcours, with a straight and slightly downhill initial section that will promote fast starts and, as was the case yesterday, encourage breaks - if a group of favourites forms in the early part of the race again, they could easily dominate the race. If they don't, expect attacks aplenty from the lesser-known riders - and a concerted effort from the big guns as they pull them back in the final lap.

Marianne Vos (Rabobank) prefers a twistier parcours but since she excels on any route, chances are she'll retain and probably increase her General Classification lead today. The stage will in all likelihood finish with a large group crossing the line together, which means that with  the 2.5km, ever-so-slightly uphill final section between Oostwold and the church it'll be the powerful sprinters such as Lizzie Armitstead and Kirsten Wild (both AA who are the ones to watch.

Note: Oldambtmeer is an important nature reserve - if you're fortunate enough to be at the race or to have access to footage, look out for the spoonbills which nest in the reeds at this time of year.

The weather's not looking bad for the stage with sunshine expected for at least part of the day. However, there's a reasonably high chance of light showers and although it won't be windy the temperature as the race begins will feel cold at 6C. Maximum temperature today will be about 9C.

Follow the official race Twitter @ewachttour for details during each stage and information on the race. Local TV RTL7 is broadcasting a short highlights show daily, today's edition being at 16:45 BST (+1 hour for local time/CEST).

Stage 1 / 2 / 3 / 4a / 4b / 5 / Guide / Video Vault

Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco Stage 5
Stage 5 - click to enlarge
(image credit: Diario Vasco)
Time flies when you're having fun - and the fact that the Tour of the Basque Country is already on its penultimate stage demonstrates just how good a race it's been this year (to think it nearly didn't happen! Eskerrik asko Sabadell Guipuzcoano!)

There's a flat run-in over the first 18km or so again today, followed by Cat 3 climb Alto Gurutze - so anyone planning a break might opt to leave it until the 25km mark after which there are 40km to the next climb, another Cat 3. After passing through a lit tunnel at 90km, riders begin a long climb of Cat 2 Alto de Elosua: the summit is 681m up, but the road is in good condition and not too steep so a break could survive and even increase its advantage on the fast descent once they're over the top and on their way to Alo de Eskarga, Cat 3 and 492km.

If the break's still going after 120km, the pack will be wanting to start picking up the pace to bring them back in over the 35km to Alto de Esentzio, Cat 2 and the last climb of the day, as well as the steepest at 8.57% - which could see the climbers move up to the front of the pack before the initially gentle, then steep descent into the last 12km. Since Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) can descend every bit as well as he can climb (a rare talent), he could get a lead on the mountain, increase it on the way down and then - with luck on his side - power his way through the last section to win his second stage of the race. However, there are a lot of other very talented climbers in this race - and perhaps even more of a danger to Sanchez's hopes, there's Stage 1 winner José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar), a man with an even rarer talent in that he can sprint with the best of them but also knows what he's doing in a sprint. If Rojas can get himself up near the front for the final 2km, he may prove unbeatable today.

Hezkuntza Euskal Herrian
(image: public domain)
Note: If you watch the race, look out for the beautiful medieval architecture at Oñati - especially the Hezkuntza Euskal Herrian (Ancient University of the Basque Country) which, having been built in 1542, is one of the oldest buildings still standing (and in use) anywhere in Spain.

Weather: For the early part of the stage, things aren't looking too bad - Bera may have some light showers today, but should escape heavy rain. It'll also be a reasonable racing temperature at 15C. If the race avoids rain all the way to the end the riders can consider themselves lucky, however; there's at least a 62% of heavier showers around midpoint Bergara and a possibility of thunderstorms with heavy rain at Oñati where the stage ends.

Euskal Irrati Telebista provide a free and legal stream of the race each day from 14:15 (BST - add 1h for CEST).

Tour of the Basque Country: 1 (video) / 2 (video) / 3 (video) / 4 (video) / 5 / 6

Ballan questions Pozzato
Ballan, now with BMC
(image credit: Sławek CC BY-SA 2.0)
BMC's Alessandro Ballan believes that he and Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini-Sella Italia) could have beaten Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma QuickStep) at the Ronde van Vlaanderen had Pozzato not failed to understand tactics.

"To beat Boonen, you've got to attack again and again to tire him out before the sprint," he told L'Equipe. "I was alone in the attack and each time, so Boonen started right away on my wheel. Result: he was fresh as we went into the final 400m."

He also questions what Pozzato was thinking. "I think Flippo kept in mind that two years ago he won the sprint in the E3 Harelbeke [it was actually 2009 - CP]. The thing is, Boonen is on top form this year - I really wonder if Filippo believed he could beat him in the sprint when Boonen won a 30-strong bunch sprint at Gent-Wevelgem, where Pozzato finished ninth."

Other News
Björn Leukemans will miss Paris-Roubaix, Vacansoleil-DCM have confirmed. The 34-year-old Belgian has had an inflamed and painful knee since he crashed at the Ronde van Vlaanderen last weekend.

Argos-Shimano have confirmed that they have received an invite to take part in this year's Tour de France. More details on their website.

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