The European road racing season really kicked off officially this weekend with the start of Paris-Nice, the first week-long stage race on European soil. Sure, there have been races going on since the Tour Down Under in January and smaller races like the Three Days of West Flanders, Vuelta a Murcia, and smaller races in Italy. But Paris-Nice has traditionally been the true start of the European season. This is also the time of year when Versus steps up it’s coverage. No more 30 minute showings of the Tour of Oman or TDU – Sunday we were treated to a full two hours of P-N.
Here are 7 pro peloton stories I’m looking forward to following this year:
- Will Alberto Contador be allowed to start the Tour de France? The legal battle has gone back and forth on this one concerning his positive test after last year’s TdF and it looks like the UCI and/or WADA will appeal the most recent ruling which allowed Bert to line up for Murcia. This could go on all season. Whether he starts the Tour or not could be this year’s biggest story.
- How will Radio Shack do without Lance Armstrong? Still one of the best teams in the world (with one of my favorite riders, Chris Horner), it will be interesting to see how The Shack responds with the General out of the line-up.
- Will Fabian Cancellara continue to dominate the early classics? Spartacus had a lock down on Flanders and Roubaix last year and seems to do just fine in races with 199 other riders staring at the target on his back. Will he continue to dominate or will Tom Boonen among others figure out how to shut down the Swiss?
- America‘s new Super-team? I’ll be fascinated to see how Garmin-Cervelo responds to the hype of having Tyler Farrar, Thor Hushovd, Christian Vande Velde, David Millar, Dave Zabriskie, Ryder Hesjedal, Heinrich Hausler, among others all on the same team. These guys are STACKED top to bottom with one of the most exciting rosters in pro cycling. The classics, shorter stage races, one-day races – in every format except for the Grand Tours they have the talent to win anything they line up at this year. They still don’t have an out-and-out Grand Tour contender but keep your eyes on Vande Velde, Hesjedal,and a host of young guys that will challenge in the 3 week races.
- Can Cavendish keep going? Already the most exciting and prolific sprinter of his generation, The Cav has won 15 Tour de France stages in 3 years. Think about that for a moment. That’s already 3 more than 8-time green jersey winner Erik Zabel and ties him for 12th all time. And he’s done it in only 3 Tours! Every time he comes into the final K at the end of a lead out train, we’re watching history.
- The Tour of California – Every year, this race gets bigger and bigger and I feel lucky that I’ve gotten to see it roll past my house (or at least 15 minutes away). This year, the race will forgo it’s traditional San Francisco visit and start up at Lake Tahoe. Looks like I’ll get to spend a long weekend at the lake watching and getting some riding in.
- The Quiznos Pro Challenge – Of course, I’m partial to the race that travels the highways and mountains of the Golden State but keep an eye on Colorado’s newest week-long stage race. Strategically placed in the calendar during the month of August, the Quiznos Pro will attract riders and teams looking to skip the 3 week Vuelta a Espana for a more sane build up to the world championships. And is there a grander canvas for a bike race than the Rockies? Not quite the history of the Alps or Pyrenees but the climbing stages will reach higher elevations than the Tour or the Giro ever has.
What stories are you looking forward to following this year?