It doesn't take a genius to find out where we are...Thüringen, natürlich. Centered near the middle (sort of) of the country, Thüringen (Thuringia in English) was apart of East Germany during the Soviet occupation. In a very CliffNotes version of the area, it is one of the sporting hearts of the country and in terms of cycling, it has been a powerhouse for producing talent. The biggest two names to mention are Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb, both of whom came from the Thüringen Energie development team and are Thüringen natives. Others include Patrick Gretsch, Sebastian Lang, Hanka Kupfernagel and Olaf Ludwig, among others.
The Thüringen Rundfahrt is one of the showcases of the U23 season and it has one of the most exciting lineups of the year. To start, this race is proper with seven stages and a prologue, which makes it one of, if not the, longest U23 stage race. Just look at the results from the last few seasons and you will understand why this race is so important to watch.
- 2012 saw Rohan Dennis (now Garmin-Sharp) take the overall over Johan Le Bon (FDJ) and Marc Goos (Blanco) while Nikias Arndt (Argos-Shimano) and Danny van Poppel (Vacansoleil) won stages.
- 2011 saw Wilco Kelderman (Blanco) take two stages and the overall win while Tobias Ludvigsson, Nikias Arndt (Argos-Shimano) Luke Rowe (SKY) and Jay McCarthy (Saxo-Tinkoff) won stages.
- 2010 saw John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) win the overall with Barry Markus (Vacansoleil) winning a stage.
That is just three years. Going through the top 10 overall and the podiums from all the stages (excluding TTTs) in just those three years, you would find 17 current World Tour riders. Keep going back and look at some of the winners of this race: Stefan Denifl, Patrick Gretsch, Mathias Frank, Tony Martin, Kai Reus, Thomas Dekker, Joost Posthuma and Pieter Weening. That is a list of phenomenal talent and that is just overall winners. Go back even further and you will see some of the best East German talent in Bert Dietz, Uwe Ampler, Olaf Ludwig and Uwe Raab. Want to look at stage winners? Okay...how does Edvald Boasson Hagen, Danny Pate, Sergey Lagutin, Andre Greipel, Mark Cavendish, Jack Bobridge and Marcel Kittel. I'll go as far as to say that this race alone is 2nd to the Tour de l'Avenir in churning out big time talent and it isn't far off being the top race.
The startlist for this race doesn't let down either. There hasn't been a race yet this year that has had a deeper lineup. Let's review...
- Australia, i.e. Jayco-AIS, is bringing a hell of a lineup. Damien Howson and Caleb Ewan headline for the antipodean squad while the rest of the team consists of guys such as Adam Phelan and Olympia's Tour TT winner Campbell Flakemore. Howson will be shooting for the GC while Ewan will be trying to get some sprints but no one will make it easy.
- Dylan van Baarle is the man to beat for this Thüringen Rundfahrt, especially after his crushing National U23 TT victory this week. Coming in with his Rabobank Development team, van Baarle will have a strong team with riders such as BMC recruit Rick Zabel, strongman Nick van der Lijke and legbreakers in Ruben Zepuntke and Mike Teunissen. This team is pure power and could dominate this race.
- Jasha Sütterlin highlights the hometown Thüringer Energie squad and will be targeting the TT and the overall. Sütterlin is the heir-apparent to Der Panzerwagen himself, Tony Martin. While the squad might seem one dimensional, they bring strong riders in rouleur Alex Frame and climber Nikodemus Holler.
- What is probably the only team to rival Australia and Rabobank Development is the Danish National Team. National U23 TT & RR winner Lasse Norman Hansen is here and will be a favorite for some stages but for the overall, I'm looking at Michael Valgren and Rasmus Sterobo with Kristian Haugaard looking good as well. They will have to have the road define a true GC leader but they will be strong.
- Etixx-iHNed has been red hot as of late and two of their strongest riders in Julian Alaphilippe and Patrick Konrad come here on great form. This duo were two of the strongest climbers at the U23 Peace Race and Thüringen isn't the flattest place in the world. Florian Senechal is craving a win and he could definitely win a selective sprint.
There are definitely more guys to watch...
- Frederik Ludvigsson will be looking for the overall after going 2nd in the Tour of Estonia. His TT will make a huge impression while his climbing could prove decisive.
- Espoirs Central favorite Silvio Herklotz brings a deceptively strong Stölting squad. Herklotz destroyed the German U23 RR and the hillier stages could be where he shines. His TT has not been red hot so the GC might be out of reach against stronger TTers.
- Willi Willwohl is just 18 but his sprint is devistating. He will be looking to clash with Caleb Ewan, Magnus Cort Nielsen and others.
- Simon Yates (Great Britain) has been all over the results pages this year and his sprint should get him on the podium again this year. Owain Doull will be right there with him.
- Michael Vink is coming of a win the the Memorial Van Coningsloo and will be looking for more success. He was 4th in the Olympia's Tour TT so he is a darkhorse for the 28.4km test.
- Daniel Paulus was not on my radar this year until his last two stage races at Giro del Friuli and the U23 Peace Race. 13th and 4th overall respectively makes him a dark horse for a top 10 overall but his TT is unproven.
- TJ Eisenhart is a steady pick for an unproven USA National Team but he will have to step up to get up into the top 10. He certainly has the pedigree from the juniors but he seems to need more experience.
This is a deep lineup and I am oh so excited to see how this turns out. Thüringen's course is deceptively tough due to the up and down nature of the race and stages that might look bunch sprint friendly could easily split up. Make sure you look at the course profiles here, thanks to @MarkelGL on twitter.
My pick for the win: Dylan van Baarle. I cannot look past the Dutchman and I think this is his race to lose. The only thing I can think of that will stop him is fatigue. He has raced a lot this year and it could catch up with him.
Dark horse: Julian Alaphilippe. I got a feeling.
Coupe des Nations Ville de Saguenay - Startlist - Course Maps
Going up against the Thüringen Rundfahrt, the Coupe des Nations Ville de Saguenay Nations Cup suffers from competition and this year, it is only down to a paltry three stages, which is a shame for a Nations Cup race. One of only two stage races on the Nations Cup circuit, the race reduced from four stages to three on the reasoning that the race would save 500,000 Canadian dollars. Three stages is better than zero and with the race entering its 6th year, it is important for the race to keep continuing.
Out of the 5 winners of the race so far, all 5 have ridden in the World Tour. I say have because Thomas Vedel Kvist retired early in favor of medical school after not cutting it with Quick Step. This race has talent go through it but it is also special because it seems to be where diamonds in the rough are found.
- Can you name one of the first big races where Daniel Teklehaimanot showed himself? It was here in 2009 that he was 10th in the TT with the UCI Mixed Team. Slovenian Marko Kump (now Saxo-Tinkoff) won a stage here in 2009 when he was one of the best U23 riders in the world.
- At just 18, Sebastian Lander (BMC) won the first stage while Arnaud Demare (FDJ) won the final stage of the 2010 race. Luka Mezgec (Argos-Shimano) won that 2010 edition, which was his first big international victory.
- 2011 saw Lasse Norman Hansen win his first U23 RR in a breakaway. At just 20, Warren Barguil (Argos-Shimano) was 4th overall while Chris Juul-Jensen (Saxo-Tinkoff) took an impressive overall win
- Julian Alaphilippe was still primarily a 'cross racer through 2012 but his first big international win in the U23 ranks came in last year's edition as he blasted the uphill sprint in La Bale.
As was stated previously, the startlist for this year's race is a bit depleted because of competing races. Despite this, there is a whole host of racers to watch.
- Mark Dzamastagic leads a short handed Slovenian team but the winner of the recent GP Industria e Commercio is on good form and with time bonuses playing a major factor in this race, he is a danger man for the overall.
- France brings two big names here to look for success. Christophe Laporte will be looking for the straight sprints while former junior World Champion Pierre-Henri Lecuisinier could be an outsider for the overall thanks to stage 2's uphill finish and the focus on bonus sprints in this race.
- United States brings what is the 2nd strongest team in the race. Depending on who is in form, they have a bevy of options for the sprints but Ty Magner should be the guy for the flatter sprints while Gavin Mannion should be the man if stage 2 comes down to a sprint on the uphill finish. Lawson Craddock is here as well and could see himself in the breakaway to get bonus seconds to snag a high overall finish.
- Italy has the strongest team. I saw their lineup and drool might have came out of my mouth. They have a man for every situation. Davide Villella is ultra-consistent and will like the uphill finish on stage 2. Niccoló Bonifazio is blazing quick and will love stage 3's downhill/flat finish. Wait...I'm forgetting Andrea Zordan, the darling Italian sprinter of this year, who could win possibly any of these stages! And then we still have the powerhouses of Ignazio Moser and Alberto Bettiol and another fast man in Federico Zurlo, who could serve as a leadout to his trade teammate Zordan. I am very excited to see how this team works together because they could win every stage. Seriously.
- The Norwegian "OMG HE IS THE NEXT PETER SAGAN!!!1!11!!!!" Sondre Holst Enger will be here and this terrain will suit him. We shall see how is form is after nearly a month layoff from the Tour of Norway
- From the Spanish corner, Carlos Barbero will be flying the Euskadi flag and the uphill finish will suit him as his sprint isn't as quick as others like Bonifazio.
The course in Saguenay, Quebec is flat to rolling but with small teams, sprints are not assured.
-Stage 1 starts out with a small climb but the finishing circuits are flat with a small climb up to the finish every lap. Course Map can be seen here
-Stage 2 is the queen stage with a seven-lap circuit race around Jonquière with a 20km loop that is very rolling. The final three kilometers has a slight incline, which could dull some legs after the first 140 kilometers. This is where the race will probably be won and lost. Course Map.
-The race wraps up with a rather flat race around Chicoutimi that has one climb but it flattens off for a flat sprint, which will help the Lamborghinis among the group. Course Map for Stage 3.
Pick for the win: Davide Villella. Finally.
Keep tuned to my twitter feed @Vlaanderen90 for results and other news before a weekend wrap-up post on Sunday/Monday.