So I know that France, the US and Spain have gotten some of their racing underway but this weekend is what I consider to be the season kickoff for the U23s and amateurs alike. This weekend includes the first DN1 French Cup Race, the kickoff of the Copa de España and the first Italian one-day race, among others. So while Armée de Terre has been terrorizing our eyes with their camouflage kits, it is finally time for some proper racing after the winter of our discontent.
Copa de España opener - Circuito Guadiana
Out in the wilds of western Spain in Extremadura, the Circuito Guadiana will kick off the 2014 Copa de España, a series of 8 road races across Spain that includes categories for elites and U23s. For the eighth year in a row, the race in the city of Don Benito kicks off the series. The course has undergone a few changes but will include the climb of the Magacela, a 1.2 kilometer climb that averaged 9 percent, that will be done four times. Last year's race came down to a sprint won by Lokomotiv's Vadim Zhuravlev but I'm thinking a breakaway will be in order for Sunday's race. Here is the link to the race's twitter page, which should be giving out updates on race day.
Grand Prix Souvenir Jean Masse
The Coupe de France (French Cup) kicks off for the Division 1 clubs this weekend at the GP Souvenir Jean Masse, which starts and finishes on the outskirts of Marseille. The course is nothing too intricate with two different loops and five categorized climbs in total; the final one coming at just 16 kilometers from the line. The weather should be pretty good for the race but with all of the big guns coming out, I doubt a big bunch will be coming to the line. Benoit Sinner (Armée de Terre) is the returning champion and his team will be the favorites but they do not have it locked by any means.
Race Website including course map and startlist.
Coppa San Geo & Opening Italian Weekend
The Coppa San Geo, the race that traditionally opens the Italian amateur calendar, is celebrating its 90th edition. The race, located in Brescia up in Lombardia, is mainly a nice, easier introduction to the racing season and tends to end in a bunch sprint. Notable past winners include Roberto Ferrari, Alberto Loddo and Vittorio Adorni. Another race on Saturday is Firenze-Empoli, which is a relatviely newer race compared to the ancient San Geo but has a bit tougher course and a better list of winners inlcuding Popovych, Appollonio and Bettiol. Sunday includes, among a few others, La Torre, which is another shorter race that is just a taste of what is to come.
Valley of the Sun Stage Race
Not the biggest U23 race by any means but Arizona's Valley of the Sun Stage Race is always a good one to keep an eye on for upcoming talent on the American side of things. Some U23s should be in attendance and with a time trial, there might be a few surprises in the results.
GP Izola - Butan plin
New race in Slovenia for this year, which highlights the minuscule coastline of Slovenia and the surrounding area. Only 141 kilometers but the finale includes three small climbs with the final summit at just 6 kilometers from the finish line. Curious to see how this course rides.
Oceania Cycling Championships
Last but no least is the Oceania Championships, taking place on the 21st and the 23rd for the U23 men. They really need to get around to calling it New Zealand v. Australia on Bikes but in any case... Campbell Flakemore and Harry Carpenter are good bets for the TT. The RR? Well maybe Rob Power can take the win on the Toowoomba course. There is a grand total of one New Zealander in the U23 men's field so this is basically a repeat of the Aussie Championships without Caleb Ewan.
Also, if you are interested, you should keep an eye on the Vuelta Independencia Nacional from the Dominican Republic. 8 stages including a time trial and a short but decisive queen stage. Always a lot of breakaway action.