Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Weekend Preview: GP de Lillers

So it makes perfect sense that during an incredibly busy week in professional cycling, that two pretty important indicators of form for amateurs and espoirs, Ster van Zwolle and GP de la Ville de Lillers-Souvenir Bruno Comini, henceforth know as GP de Lillers, will get buried under all of the televised coverage this weekend. Therefore I am going to do my part to make sure the races are not buried because when bigger amateur and U23 events start to pop up, these results will be good indicators of talent. Rant over.

49th GP de Lillers (UCI 1.2) (Pas de Calais, France)

       Startlist     Course Map     Google Map of Lillers      Course Map    Website

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday! I'm sure that you, just like me, swoon when you think of Northern France. The flat landscape, the dreary cloudy and rainy, the farm roads covered in cow crap...oh who the hell am I kidding. There is nothing very interesting about Lillers. It is a northern working-class city that is only known for two things: shoes and this bike race. Lillers used to be one of the biggest shoe producers in France but after World War II, the production of shoes fell exponentially until the final factory closed in 1996. Coincidentally, the GP de Lillers-Souvenir Bruno Comini rose to professional status in 1996 after being an important amateur event for over 30 years. As an amateur event, winners included Klaus Peter-Thaler, Robert Millar, Brian Holm and Jeroen Blijlevens. As a professional event, it has been won by many different types of riders, from hardman Niko Eeckhout to lesser known names like Benoit Daeninck.

The Course 

The course itself is broken up into 3 different loops. The bunch will do 10km around Lillers before taking the yellow loop, 51km, which is flat and pretty uneventful before heading back into town and riding the blue circuit. The 46 kilometer loop itself is peppered with 4 hills and will be filled with action as riders will be trying to thin the pack out. This will be where the race is made but if a group gets away, they still have two 13 kilometer finishing circuits to contend with before the race is decided on a slightly uphill drag in the center of town.

The weather seems like it will be cooperating with the riders for once so far this season. Temperatures will be in the 40's at the start and will climb up to a high of 50 degrees near the finish. Wind is predicted to be pretty low on Sunday as well.

The Contenders

Unlike in recent years, the GP de Lillers will not be apart of the Coupe de France classification this year and therefore will be a more international affair. Cofidis, Sojasun and Bretagne Schuller are all fielding squads but the former two will be at Paris-Nice so they don't have their best with them. Since this race can go many different ways, let's go through a few of the favorites.

Cofidis' Romain Hardy was 4th at this race last season in a reduced sprint and is very consistent in French races. Maxime Daniel and Jeremie Galland will be Sojasun's best bets. Eugenio Alafaci (Leopard) was consistent last spring and will like a reduced group. There is the Rabobank Continental buzzsaw of Nick van der Lijke and Ruben Zepuntke. I could keep going on and on but the race is really wide open so no point in sitting here listing every possible contender.


I was not expecting much in the way of coverage this week but I am surprised, and delighted, to say that it seems that there will be live coverage of this race! The french website Velo.Racing.News seems to be covering the race live and to my knowledge it seems like there will be live pictures! The weekend is already jammed packed with live TV so this will be an added bonus if it really is true, of course.

Velo.Racing.News website and the UStream channel where live coverage is supposed to be at 13.00 Sunday!

Weekend Preview: Ster van Zwolle

Let's be honest, it has been utterly frigid on the continent lately. After a frozen weekend that saw multiple races cancelled, Le Samyn today was only marginally warmer. With the weather being this cold, some riders don't perform as well as they normally would, as is evident by riders in the Beverbeek Classic and guys like Arnaud Demare at Le Samyn. This weekend holds two more races; races that can either go the way of the sprint or detonate into smaller groups.

53rd Ster van Zwolle (UCI 1.2) (Netherlands) 

The Ster van Zwolle holds significance in that it is the opening classic of the Dutch season and attracts continental and amateur teams from all over the Netherlands and beyond. The race itself is exciting in that it is hard to predict what will happen. While the course is flat, the racing will be anything but boring.

The Course

Ster van Zwolle, or the Star of Zwolle, apparently got its name from the course itself, which is supposed to be a star shape around the city of Zwolle, in the province of Overijssel. If we look at this gps map from 2011, we can see that a) it looks like a 2 year olds version of a star and b) the course's biggest obstacle is probably a highway overpass. The race is scheduled to do 177 kilometers (in addition to a 3.3 km neutral rollout), which should only take them a little bit over 4 hours. 

Coverage from last year's race:


Go here for a full startlist. Some additions and subtractions will possibly be made.

The Contenders

All of the Dutch teams will be hungry for a win so don't expect a foreigner to win. In fact, there was only been one foreign winner in the race's history, Marc Wauters in 1994, and he rode the majority of his career for WordPerfect/Rabobank so he is only half foreign. Every Dutch continental team is present along with 9 club teams and they will be pissed if a non-Dutch riders comes in and spoils the party...unless it is Rick Zabel (Rabobank Continental). The wind will not be a big factor Saturday so unless someone is feeling extra strong, it should come together for a bunch sprint.

3 stars: Yoeri Havik (De Rijke-Shanks) Nick van der Lijke (Rabobank Continental)
Giorgio Brambilla (Atlas Personal-Jakroo) Patrick Clausen (CULT Energy)

2 stars: Dylan Groenewegen (De Rijke-Shanks) Steve Schets (Doltcini Flanders)
Tino Thömel (NSP-Ghost) Michael Kurth (Quantec-Indeland)

1 star: Florian Bissinger (Vorarlberg) Vegard Robinson Bugge (Joker Merida)

I have absolutely no idea if there will be any race coverage this weekend. The website is pretty barebones but twitter or a Dutch website might possibly help with some coverage. I will try my best to give updates when I find them through my twitter account, @Vlaanderen90. It will be a busy weekend with Paris-Nice, West Vlaanderen, Strade Bianche and Roma Maxima but I won't give up on my U23s.  

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

U-23 Calendar Explanation and March Preview

With the snow in Europe canceling a whole host of races this past weekend, riders and fans will be anxiously awaiting the sun and warmer temperatures of March. No more corneal damage and frozen eyeballs! Just sun and wind burn to go along with the searing pain of lactic acid, road rash and bonking. But I digress...

For someone new to U-23 cycling, following the racing can be incredibly confusing.  I shall break down where to look for important U-23 races and other races that you might not immediately think of.

  • U23 Nations Cup - The U-23 Nations Cup is the UCI's program of U-23 races that are run with national squads for the purpose of getting riders the chance to race on varied terrain and places they normally wouldn't be able to. It also keeps the races on the calendar from being dominated by rider's from their own country, i.e. too many Belgians racing the U-23 Ronde van Vlaanderen. The problem with this calendar is that it is short as it only has six races on it (not counting continental championships) but this makes sense because national teams are on tight budgets. Full Calendar
  • If one were to look at the UCI calendar, you will notice races that have a 'U' next to them. The 'U' designates a race to be strictly U-23 only. These races will either a be category 1.2U (one-day race) or 2.2U (stage race). For March, if we look at the UCI calendar, there are no 1.2U or 2.2U designated race on the calendar. This does not mean that the U-23 racers will be lying dormant.
  • Many nations have overall competitions for young riders or where young riders compete frequently. Belgium has their Top Competitie for U-27 riders (calendar and teams) that has 8 important races. France has their Coupe de France (calendar) along with a seemingly endless amount of amateur racing. Italy has a huge calendar of amateur racing with 70(!) races targeted at younger amateur and U-23 racing. Spain have their Copa de Espana and other countries have their own rankings. Past this? Just look at the UCI calendar for any UCI race rated 1.2 or 2.2!
Are you properly confused now? Well don't worry because every month, I will be putting up a full breakdown of the important races to follow! Big downside? The vast majority of these races do not have live video and we are relient upon highlights for the most part but many have live text feeds.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sticky Situation for Etixx-iHNed

The title might be a bit confusing but I shall clarify for you. This off-season, the UCI World Tour team Omega Pharma-Quickstep, funded by Czech billionaire Zdenek Bakala and Omega Pharma boss Marc Coucke, founded a UCI continental team, Etixx-iHNed (Just so we all know, Etixx is a nutritional company while iHNed is a Czech news website). The team is a feeder team for Omega Pharma-Quickstep (OPQS) and made big signings in the offseason with Julian Alaphilippe, Patrick Konrad and others. The team itself is registered in the Czech Republic because of UCI rules dictating that a continental team must register in the country where the majority of their riders are from.

None of this would really be news except for the fact that OPQS already have another development team, EFC-Omega Pharma-Quickstep. EFC is an amateur team in Belgium which receives funding from OPQS and Bakala and has a goal of sending at least 2 to 3 riders to Etixx-iHNed a year. The progression makes sense: riders starting out on a amateur squad then rising into the continental ranks and then hopefully to the World Tour. Except now, because of a lack of forethought by OPQS and Bakala, Etixx-iHNed has run into a problem.

Since both Etixx-iHNed and EFC essentially get their money from the same place, they are not allowed to start in the same races, as per a UCI rule that state that two teams owned by the same person and/or company cannot race together. One of the bigger early season Belgian races for continental and amateur teams is the Kattekoers Deinze - Ieper. With the UCI rules, Etixx-iHNed has been barred from entering the race. 

While I sympathize with the riders about getting barred from a race, OPQS and team management should have understood this rule in the first place before trying to enter two teams into the same race. Why should two teams that are owned by the same people get to race together? They could easily team up if they have a rider in the break and you have a 12-man team. This is the same logic which bars many World Tour teams from possibly riding in the same races as their development squads. Katusha/Itera-Katusha and Blanco/Rabobank Continental are the biggest example but before this we had RadioShack/Bontrager-Livestrong and Garmin-Sharp/Chipotle. While this situation is with a UCI Continental team and a prominent amateur squad, the same rules apply because the Kattekoers is a UCI race.

In any case, the OPQS management and Bakala should not be blaming the UCI on this one. They should have known the rules before they started complaining about it. While I understand that it is unfortunate for the squad, they will still have a big schedule this season. The team's first race will be the GP Ville de Lillers on March 3rd.

EDIT: So the UCI has decided to be bend the rules (what a shock, eh?) with Etixx-iHNed and EFC and allow them to race together. It seems as if the Belgian Fed. appealed to the UCI and they made is so. Patrick Lefevere still seems to have no concept of the UCI rules because an hour before Omega Pharma  boss Marc Coucke announced the good news, he was complaining about Etixx-iHNed not being able to race with OPQS and lamenting why he even bothers investing in young riders.

P.S. This is the first entry of my new blog! I will mostly be dealing with U-23 cycling and World Tour neo-pro's and I appreciate any support I get along the way. I apologize about the blog design right now but it'll get better in the future.