Cycling season preview
The much anticipated 2012 UCI Cycling Season is now underway, the Tour of Qatar having finished on February 10th, with Tom Boonen taking the title. Boonen, who finished safely in the peleton on the final stage, claimed his fourth Tour of Qatar victory, adding to wins in 2006, 2008 and 2009.
FDJ’s Arnaud Demare won the 6th and final stage with The Manx Missile, Cavendish, crashing during the sprint finish.
Belgian rider Boonen finished up 28 seconds clear of American Tyler Farrar in the general classification, with Sky’s Juan Antonio Flecha five seconds adrift in third place.
2011 winner Tony Martin will be back in contention, with Omega Pharma-QuickStep team-mates Levi Leipheimer and Sylvain Chavanel also rumoured to be at the start.
Local reports are circulating that 8 of the top 12 from last year’s Tour de France will be spinning their pedals in the opening TT between Dampierre-en-Yvelines and Saint-Rémy-Lès-Chevreuse.
The first loser (or second place) in 2011, Andreas Klöden, will be one of the major players in the Radioshack-Nissan team, along with the Schleck brothers, who will be making their first appearance together this year.
Other notable starters include Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale), former winner Luis-Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar).
Widely regarded as the classic of the season, and always a fantastic contest, the ascent of the Poggio and a wide-open bunch sprint finish make viewing essential.
Milan-San Remo, as usual, will be a mouthwatering battle between attacking riders and sprinters for the title. The race will cover almost 180 miles.
Philippe Gilbert, and his new BMC Team will be one of the favourites, as will the 2008 San Remo winner, Fabian Cancellara (Radio Shack-Nissan Trek).
The 2010 San Remo winner, Mark Cavendish, as World Champion, will be sporting the rainbow jersey and hoping his new mates from Team Sky will deliver him to the line with the same efficiency as HTC managed for most of last season.
Another rider on the shortlist is the 2011 San Remo winner, Matt Goss, leading the new Aussie pro tour squad, Green Edge.
Phillipe Gilbert dominated the classics in 2011; however, the Belgian will not find things so easy in 2012.
The disgraced former ‘King of Spain’, Alejandro Valverde, is making a comeback after a two years ban for doping. Before his suspension, Valverde was the top one-day rider in the world and was beating Gilbert with consummate ease. However, that is not likely to happen this season as Valverde will need time to adjust to racing conditions again.
Courtesy of a doping ban, Alberto Contador will not defend his Giro title in 2012.
That leaves the race wide-open for riders like Michele Scarponi (Lampre), Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) and Purito Rodríguez (Katusha) to try to take the title, along with French climber John Gadret (AG2R La Mondiale), who just missed the 2011 podium.
The 2012 Giro starts in Denmark and, after three stages, heads back to Italy.
The Giro’s final week features a selection of energy-sapping categorised climbs, including a mountaintop finish on the Passo dell Stelvio on the penultimate day, before a final 31.5km Time Trial in Milan.
During the race, World Champion Mark Cavendish will battle the other sprinters, and will have some new challengers this year in the shape of Andrea Guardini and Elia Viviani. Both riders have shown they can zip through the power gears, but it will take some serious wattage to take on Cannonball Cav.
Tour de France:
Three-time Tour winner Contador – sorry, it’s now two wins! Who knows, by the time Le Tour starts he may well have had the other two stripped away.
This year is the 99th edition of The Tour de France and it starts in Liege, Belgium on June 30.
Johan Bruyneel took over the management of Leopard Trek and turned it into RadioShack NIissan Trek, with riders like Andy Schleck and Fabian Cancellara now in his hands. Bruyneel, a TDF management specialist, will look to guide Schleck to the title.
Defending champion Cadel Evans will be fully aware of Bruyneel’s experience; however, his Grand Tour wins have come with Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador, and managing Andy Schleck will be a different story.
Schleck clearly has the physical potential to win the Le Tour, but has proved over the years to be lacking mental strength. When Le Tour starts to ‘ramp up’ through the mountains, it doesn’t take much for a rider to crack, so, unless Bruyneel can work his magic, Schleck will be one of them.
UCI Racing Calendar:
4th-11th: UCI Road World Tour, Paris-Nice, France.
17th: UCI Road World Tour, Milan-San Remo, Italy.
25th: UCI Road World Tour, Gent-Wevelgem, Belgium.
1st: UCI Road World Tour Ronde van Vlaanderen / Tour des Flandres, Belgium.
8th: UCI Road World Tour, Paris-Roubaix, France.
15th: UCI Road World Tour Amstel Gold Race, Netherlands.
18th: UCI Road World Tour La Fleche Wallonne, Belgium.
22nd: UCI Road World Tour , Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Belgium.
24th-29th: UCI Road World Tour Tour de Romandie, Switzerland.
5th – 27th: Giro d’Italia, Italy.
30thJune-22nd July: Tour de France.
18th August-9th September: Vuelta a Espana, Spain.