Thursday, April 11, 2013

On Floods, Dikes and Dams: A ZLM Tour Preview

ZLM Tour

-178.9 kilometers
-Goes, Netherlands - Goes, Netherlands
-Saturday April 13th
-UCI 1.NCup
-Race Website, Startlist, Course Map (PDF)

The 3rd Nations Cup race of the week and final one for a while is the ZLM Tour, a race around the Oosterscheide, an estuary and the largest national park in the Netherlands. Situated in the provice of Zeeland, the race starts in the city of Goes winds around and over the Oosterscheide and then loops back into Goes for two finishing loops. This race can be descirbed as...Hmm...well Michael Valgren (CULT Energy) probably has the best answer...

This race is known for it's flat windy roads and havoc that it wreaks on the peloton. While it is a primarily flat race, there has not been a finishing group of more than thirty that has reached the finish together since the race went on the Nations Cup calendar in 2008.

The Course

To understand the course, we have to take a trip back in time, albeit an abridged version. In January 31st-February 1st of 1953, the North Sea flooded and caused catastrophic damage in the Netherlands, concentrated around the area of Zeeland, an area which is primarily at or under sea level. Nearly 2,000 people died in the Netherlands alone and 70,000 people had to be evacuated. With 450 million euro (in today's money) in damages, the Delta Works project was accelerated and a multitude of dams, dikes, levees and barriers were built to protect the country from the rising tides of the sea.

The province of Zeeland itself was at one time completely underwater but over the course of centuries, the land was reclaimed via poldering. Even when you look at Zeeland now, it really is still just a grouping of islands and peninsulas. The '53 flood changed the face of Zeeland as new infrastructure (dams, bridged, tunnels, etc.) became an integral part of the province and allowed the area to be fully connected for the first time (which was finally accomplished in 2003 with the Westerscheldetunnel).

Course Map

The course of the ZLM Tour takes in the vast majority of Zeeland. Starting in Goes, the race heads north and over the Zeeland bridge, the longest bridge in the Netherlands at 5,022 meters. Once over the bridge, the race takes a left at Zierikzee and heads along the coast of the Schouwen-Duiveland municipality. At Bruinisse, the race heads across more strands as it heads over the Rijksweg N59 and then makes a right onto the Philipsdam. After the race gets back onto dry land, the course heads west and crosses briefly into North Brabant but heads back into Zeeland and begins to venture back south. After passing through the city of Tholen, the races continues south via the Oesterdam, a 10.5 kilometer long dam, the longest in the Delta Works network.

While the Netherlands isn't known for them, this race does have a small bit of cobbles. After the race gets over the Oesterdam, they take a left and follow the Hogerwaardweg, a narrow cobbled road that lasts for about 2 kilometers. The race briefly re-enters North Brabant and loops around the town of Woensdrecht before heading back into Zeeland and for the southern coast of the Reimerswaal municipality. There will be wind and lots of it as the race stays along the coast for 13 kilometers before turning northwest and heading back towards Goes. The race will cross the finish three times and will have two finishing loops around Goes and the surrounding areas to the east. The race will follow the Kattendijksedijk on the first approach and the following two laps and will offer up a lot of wind.

If this was a bit confusing, have no fear as the organizers made a neat video profile of the course and important areas along it.

The Contenders

While this race can be a bit crazy with the wind and echelons, the winner is usually a rider with a one-day and sprinting background. Since it became a Nations Cup race in 2008, the race has been won by Jacopo Guarnieri (Astana), Arman Kamyshev (Astana), Maxime Daniel (Sojasun), and twice by Luke Rowe (SKY), once in a sprint and once in a late breakaway. John Degenkolb was on the podium twice here, 2nd in 2008 to Guarnieri and winning the chasing group sprint for 3rd in 2009 behind Rowe.

Caleb Ewan
So our suspect will obviously be someone with a sprint. The obvious favorite has to be the Australian Caleb Ewan. He won Wednesday's La Côte Picarde after latching himself onto the winning breakaway and outsprinting Sean De Bie. Slovenia brings Luka Pibernik, who was 3rd to Ewan in the GP Palio del Recioto and 8th in the Ronde van Vlaanderen Nations Cup last Saturday. Sprinters Ty Magner (USA) and Paddy Bevin (New Zealand) will be making their Nations Cup debuts for this year here. Both were racing the Redlands Classic stage race in California last week so we shall see if their form has come across the pond with them. Other sprinters to watch will be Yoeri Havik (Netherlands), Christophe Laporte (France) and Jorne Carolus & Florent Mottet (Belgium). 

We could also see a winner that is not a pure sprinter. Points Race World Champion Simon Yates (Great Britain) has been attacking the hell out of races lately, including both the Ronde van Vlaanderen and La Côte Picarde Nations Cups. If he is feeling well, we could see a late race move from him, which coupled with strong finishing speed, could mean trouble for everyone else. Slovenia's Jan Polanc would prefer some hills but he always seems to be in an attacking mood. Other strong men to watch include Toms Skujins (Latvia), Damien Howson (Australia),  Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev (Kazakhstan) and Alexis Gougeard (France). 

My pick for the win: Caleb Ewan ahead of Havik and Carolus.

1 comment: