Friday, 16 March 2012

Cyclopunk's News Digest 16-17.03.12

Today's News: E3 Harebeke - Women's Cycling this weekend - Chicchi wins Handzame Classic - Cav and Boonen on Milan-San Remo - Flecha for Dwars door Vlaanderen - Gilbert backs Spartacus 

The big E3 fight - Boonen v. Cancellara
Altimetry - click for enlargement
Friday the 23rd of March brings us the legendary E3 Harelbeke: 203km of Flandrian cobbles, devastatingly steep climbs and, in all but official designation, a Classic. The climbs, as with those faced in the Tour of Flanders one week later, are short but notoriously difficult; challenging for their steepness and in many cases made worse by cobbles. The first of the big ones is the fabled De Muur, climbed in the opposite direction to the Tour of Flanders, 1.075km in length and reaching only 92m - while an average gradient of 9.3% and maximum of 19.8% ensure that while the race is unlikely to be won here (at halfway, it's too early),  it can most certainly be lost. D'Hoppe follows at 120km in the forested Henegouwen, then there are a further eleven along the way to the finish line including the Kwaremont - a name that tellingly derives from the ancient Gallo-Roman for "square mountain."

First held in 1958 (though it developed from races held here since 1955) when it was won by Armand Desmet, the unusual name comes from the E3 motorway that has since been renamed the A14 - and this year the race looks all set to offer an epic battle as Tom Boonen, Belgian winner of a record four consecutive editions between 2004 and 2007, seeks to wrestle victory from the mighty Swiss Fabian Cancellara who won in 2010 and 2011. It's a tough one - don't miss it. (Start list / parcours details)

Women still at work this weekend
Milan-San Remo dominates the European racing scene this weekend and the press will all but ignore everything else as a result. However, women's cycling continues as always, with two major events taking place. The first is the Classica Cita di Padova, a UCI 1.2 covering 113.8km of beautiful countryside over in the north-eastern corner of Italy this Saturday. It's one of the biggest events to fall at this time of year and provides an excellent opportunity for the teams to get some race miles under their tyres during Classics season, so several top teams are sending their very best riders.

Emma Johansson for Padova
(image credit: Eriohm CC BY 3.0)
Specialized-Lululemon and GreenEDGE, both enjoying fantastic first seasons this year, look like having the best chances at victory - Lululemon have Trixi Worrack, Ina Yoko Teutenberg, Chloe Hosking, Emilia Fahlin and Evelun Stevens on board while GreenEDGE have Judith Arndt, Loes Gunnewijk, Claudia Haussler, Tiffany Cromwell and Alexis Rhodes; all of them riders capable of winning this race. Cyclopunk will be backing Emma Johansson from Hitec Products- Mistral Home, meanwhile - following some superb results while still testing herself following the double broken collarbone she suffered in an accident earlier this year, this is the perfect opportunity for the 28-year-old Swede to let the world know she's back and every bit as good as before. (Start list.)

Bergseth for Cholet
(image credit. Hitec Products-Mistral Home)
On Sunday, we have the 9th edition Cholet Pays de Loire Dames - a tough race featuring four laps of an often rain-soaked 29.5km circuit. Cyclopunk likes the look of Hitec Products-Mistral Home's chances in this one, too - Johanne Bergseth and Lise Nostvold seem to have the form to win right now, but Pascale Jeuland's Vienne Futurscope and a strong Topsport Vlaanderen 2012-Ridley won't let them do so unchallenged. If you need to satisfy your cycling addiction in the wake of Milan-San Remo, this is undoubtedly the event with what you need. (Map and altimetry / start list.)

Cheeky Chicchi grabs second win this week
Francesco Chicchi has won the second edition of the UCI 1.1 Handzame Classic, which took place on  Friday the 16th of March on a route with some reasonably difficult climbs. This is the second victory in three days for the 31-year-old Italian of Omega Pharma-QuickStep - he won the Nokere Koerse on Wednesday.

A 15-man break got away early in the race but were not permitted to get anywhere, being reeled back in after achieving a lead of no more than 30". Four others tried again with 30km to go but they too failed, being caught within the last 7km where the peloton regrouped for a predicted bunch sprint to the line. 1t4i's Marcel Kittel was second and BMC's British rider Adam Blythe took third. (Start list / parcours / results.)

Cav on MSR: "We've got it covered"
Mark Cavendish is confident that Team Sky can propel him to a second victory at Saturday's Milan-San Remo. The race, which is the first Monument of the 2012 season, is also known as La Primavera and the sprinter's classic - the latter epithet ensuring that Cav, widely considered the fastest sprinter cycling has yet produced, was always going to be a favourite.

Cav: "We've got it covered."
(image credit: Richard Masoner CC BY-SA 2.0)
"This year I have great form, the team is strong, the spirit is good, we're strong enough to deal with anything," the 26-year-old told Cycling Weekly. Meanwhile, the Missile has said he may decide to leave this year's Tour de France before the race ends in order to concentrate on the Olympics. "Mark has said he wants to finish the Tour, but if he knows he can win the Olympics he will take the final week day by day," coach Rod Ellingworth told The Guardian. Doing so would prove popular with those British fans who follow sports in general, but less so among the dedicated cycling fans who make up the core of Cav's following. For us, the Tour is the ultimate: Olympic gold, even when won in London, will never be worth as much as a green jersey won in France. (Milan-San Remo will be live on British Eurosport from 13:15. Check times in other nations. Team Sky have various interactive coverage going on all day.)

Boonen on MSR: "I'm not afraid of Cav"
Tom Boonen has dominated the
Classics - except this one
(image credit: Tete de la Course CC BY-SA 2.0)
Omega Pharma-Quickstep's Tom Boonen established himself as one of the top Classics specialists of the last three decades some time ago, but Milan-San Remo has always remained just out of his reach. Things may change this year, the 31-year-old Belgian believes.

"I have confidence in a good outcome," he told Het Nieuwesblad. "If I have the legs that I had in 2010, I can win on Saturday." This race is known as the Sprinter's Classic and Team Sky's Mark Cavendish is known as the fastest sprinter in the world, but Boonen is mindful of the fact that if Cav's going to win in the last section beyond the Poggio climb he's got to first ride 292km. "Intrinsically, it is the fastest [who will win]," he says, "but after 300km it's a different kind of sprint. I'm not afraid to take him on."

Other News
Sky's Juan Antonio Flecha, recovering from a hand injury, will not ride Milan-San Remo but plans a return to competition next Wednesday (21st of March) when he will take part in the Dwars door Vlaanderen. Team mate Mark Cavendish will also ride, despite the tough climbs in the second half making this seem somewhat less than idea territory for him. For Flecha, it's all about getting used to the cobbles - the 34-year-old, who has performed so well in the Northern Classics that he's earned the nickname The Spanish Flandrian, has a greater goal firmly within his sights: "I don't think I will be on top form at the Dwars door Vlaanderen, but I will give it my all," he says. "Then I can be at my best and fight for victory at Paris-Roubaix."

Philippe Gilbert rates Fabian Cancellara as the favourite for Milan-San Remo and admits that his own form has not been good so far this season. “My feeling is that Cancellara [is the favorite] for a fortnight, in the races he likes: Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix,” he told VeloNews.

Andreas Klier ‏ @KlierAndreas
In my opinion 2morrow we are not in the position to say we are favorites for the MSR12-Race..but that's fine.Our spirit will carry us far..

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