Thursday, March 28, 2013

Weekend Preview: Boucle de l'Artois and Giro del Belvedere

You thought that Triptyque Monts et Châteaux was the only race this weekend? HA!

Les Boucle de l'Artois

Les Boucle de l'Artois is another split-day stage race that packs a whole lot of racing into a short time period. Taking place across the historic Artois region in northern France, the race has a long first day, nearly 180km, and then has a split 2nd day, with a mid-length 23km TT in the morning followed by a 132.5 km road stage in the afternoon. This race has been apart of the Coupe de France ranking the last two years but went to the UCI 2.2 ranking again for this year thus taking it off the CdF calendar, which accounts for the lack of French teams.

The region itself is interesting in that it didn't become officially French until the Thirty Years War after spending time as a part of Flanders, France, Burgundy and the Spanish Netherlands. The region was once a prosperous region for coal but that has nearly dried up thus leaving the region with a declined economy. In modern France, the historical Artois region lies within Pas-de-Calais.

Quick Hits

  • March 30-31st
  • Artois (Pas-de-Calais), France
  • 3 stages (2 road + TT)
  • 334 kilometers
  • Riders to watch: Frederik Ludvigsson (People4You-Unaas), Lasse Norman Hansen (Blue Water), Dieter Bouvry (Etixx-iHNed) Jasha Sütterlin (Thüringer Energie) Wouter Daniels (Lotto-Belisol U23) Gerry Druyts (EFC-OPQS) 
  • Startlist and Course Guide

Stage 1 Saint Pol to Hesdin (178km)

As it is northern France, there will be a lot of small roads and wind...and it is going to be cold. The stage itself has 6 mountain sprints but the last one if 40km from the finish line. This stage can go a few different ways; with the finishing circuits at the end, a breakaway could come back into the fold and lead into a bunch sprint or their gap could be significantly reduced. With the small teams, an elite breakaway could control the racing, even with the flat final 40km into and around Hesdin.

Stage 2 Croisilles to Arras (23.5km)

This time trial is pretty flat to rolling and will probably be the decider for the general classification.

Stage 3 Mont Saint Eloi Circuit (132.5km)

If there are any close gaps on GC still left, this final stage will obliterate them because of a difficult uphill finish. The stage is not entirely on the circuit and takes about 60 or so kilometers to get there but the real action will begin on the circuit as it will be raced over 6 times, which means the peloton, or what is left of it, will have to go over the climb, which hits grades of over 10%, six times. With the hilltop finish, the race will go from a select peloton to bits & pieces quite quickly.

I listed my U23 riders to watch up top already. Ludvigsson rode a stellar race in Normandie for an 18-year-old and this race should suit him quite well with the TT and some hills. Hansen and Sütterlin should be targeting the TT while Bouvry will fancy himself for the final stage. Other younger riders to watch include Giorgio Brambilla (Atlas Personal-Jakroo) and Dylan Kowalski (VC Rouen). It is hard to judge what kind of form some of these guys are on since many haven't had too many racing days.

Giro del Belvedere

  • April 1st (Easter Monday)
  • Villa di Villa, Province of Treviso, Italy
  • 154 kilometers UCI 1.2U
  • Former winners include Ivan Gotti, Gorazd Stangelj, Yarolsav Popovych & Sacha Modolo
  • Course Map w/ Profile

This race is one of the truly big spring races on the Italy U23 circuit and for good reason as it is both beautiful and difficult, which are both attributes to make a great Italian race. This race has been run continuously since 1959, though for some reason they insist on calling it the 75th edition because the first edition was technically a one-off event in 1923. In any case, this race features ten laps with a small GPM/KOM sprint followed by two bigger laps that include the difficult Montaner climb, which averages nearly 12% for a kilometer at its steepest. There will only be 10 kilometers left at the summit and only six km left once the riders finish the descent. The race the finishes on a slight uphill rise in Villa di Villa but if history is any lesson, there will not be many riders that will be contesting the victory. Historically, this race has finished with a solo victor or a small group, so there will be no big bunches sprinting for the win here.

There is going to be an awesome startlist to go along with this event...well there will be once the riders are announced. There is an incredible 34 teams listed by the organizers currently, which would mean that some teams will be coming with less than 6 riders to sneak in under the UCI limit of 200. All of the big amateur Italian teams are present including Trevigiani, Zalf-Euromobil, Colpack and Palazzago among others. There are a huge number of foreign teams present including national teams from Australia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Serbia; development teams such as BMC U23, Ag2r Chambery, Itera-Katusha U23 and continental teams such as Stölting, Radenska, Gourmetfein-Simplon, Lokosphinx among others. I do not know who exactly is going to be there but you can get on the likes of Jan Polanc (Radenska) Calvin Watson (Food Italia/Australia) Davide Villela (Colpack) last year's winner Daniele Dall'Oste (Trevigiani) Davide Martinelli (Food Italia) and more.

A couple more notes...
-The weather looks like there will be rain again but the temperature will at least be bearable this weekend compared to last weekend at the frigid Piccola Sanremo.
-There will also be delayed highlights from Italy's RAI 2 which will show the last hour of the race. If there are any available feeds, I will post them on twitter but if not, I will post the highlights on here.

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