Maxima minimised – VCSE’s Racing Digest #39

Etixx have (another) day to forget

Het Niewsblad and Kuurne Brussel Kuurne represent the start of the season proper for me. Races take place in conditions that I can recognise from my own rides and it the Flandrian landscape doesn’t feel too dissimilar to the windswept Essex roads that I do the majority of my miles on. I’m not sure of the exact reason(s) why OHN isn’t easier to catch on something other than a streaming site, but I guess money must have something to do with it. Having said that if Eurosport can manage to show the GP Samyn why can’t they get the Sporza feed for OHN? Particularly as they use the same channels pictures for the following day for KBK.

Le Samyn took place today and Etixx Quick Step had another ‘mare. With the kind of representation in the leading group that other teams would dream of and Gianni Meersman last wheel in the sprint train you’re thinking ‘win’ right? Um.. well.. apparently not. Lotto Soudal (nee Belisol) rider Kris Boeckmans went early and Meersman ended up second.  Lotto didn’t exactly set things on fire at the weekend, so the win was probably as significant for them as the (ahem) misfiring Etixx boys losing out. Ok, so this isn’t a race that will make or break their season, but Eitixx have to be wondering how they can turn numerical advantage in the last three races into only one victory.

Just the one (1 day) race in Italy this weekend then..

I’m looking forward to Strade Bianche on Saturday. Wouldn’t it be great if it rains? Of course the weather isn’t something that RCS can arrange and if the race is run in the same conditions as last year it shouldn’t spoil the fun. Last years edition featured Peter Sagan having one of those days that Etixx seem to be having currently. Ironically it was an Etixx rider that beat him twelve months ago; Michael Kwiatowski. While last years winner will be absent from this years edition (he’s at Paris Nice), the runner up is riding. Sagan will race on Saturday before turning his attention to Tirreno Adriatico the following week. This will be my first sight of Sagan since his move to Tinkoff. I wonder how Sagan will go this year. The massive contract must be nice but how long will it take Oleg to take to Twitter if he feels that he isn’t getting the return he thinks his investment justifies?

There’s plenty of other interest in the list of provisional starters. Simon Gerrans is fit again and this is the kind of race that should suit him. Cannondale Garmin are bringing 2013 winner Moreno Moser who hasn’t done anything since to be honest, so I guess I mention it as an example of talent that’s (currently) unfulfilled. One rider who I think could go really well on Saturday if he’s allowed to is Sky’s Peter Kennaugh. Sky have a pretty mixed up squad of classics and grand tour riders so it’s not clear to me what the Sky game plan could be.

What’s disappointing about this weekend is that Strade Bianche won’t be bookending things with Roma Maxima. The previous two editions of what was a revival race meeting had produced something really decent to watch and it’s a shame that the race has been pulled. It’s another example of the precarious nature of the sport that an event that looked to have been well supported locally and enjoyable to follow on TV has disappeared from this years calendar.

Every cloud though; at least Alejandro Valverde won’t be able to defend his title!

But it’s not all doom & gloom

For every absent Italian one day race we always have an opening prologue TT to kick off the ‘Race to the Sun’. Yes Paris Nice begins on Sunday and by midweek I will be wondering whether to watch the day’s stage from France live or should I shift my affections to Tirreno Adriatico?

I enjoy both races and it’s tricky to pick one over the other. Tirreno, on paper looks like the one to go for with another Contador / Froome match up beckoning. Paris Nice returns to a more traditional format with the closing stage TT up the Col d’Eze with a mixture of hills and sprint stages in between. They won’t stray to far from the script in Italy either but a repeat on the 30% ramps on the penultimate stage in 2013 would spice things up a bit. You can check out that footage via my YouTube channel.

I wonder which Bradley Wiggins will turn up for Paris Nice. If Wiggo’s not up for a valedictory win in the race he claimed in 2012 you would think he will want to show off the rainbow stripes in style up the Col d’Eze. Sky has another ex champ in the shape of Richie Porte and last years nearly man Geraint Thomas so it would need a super motivated Wiggins to assert himself to team leader status next week.

Rafal Majka should be good for a stage win, but I would tip him for a potential GC placing if the TT goes well on Sunday. Cannondale have Dylan Van Baarle, last years Tour of Britain winner. It’s maybe too much of an ask to take the overall, but he could go top 5 on GC in my view. That said, the likely designated team leader for the Argyle squad will be Andrew Talansky. Another rider to watch will be Fabio Aru. He hasn’t been too high profile since the Giro but if the rumours about him wanting to be on an equal footing with Nibali are true, Paris Nice is a good place to start demonstrating.

I will check in over the course of the next week or so with my take on both races and no doubt apologise for my tipped riders poor showing.

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