With the Giro d’Italia in the rearview mirror, European racing shifts gears into a series of transition races as anticipation grows for July’s Tour de France.
The big draw this week will be Lance Armstrong’s European return to the Tour of Luxembourg. The Texan crashed out of the Amgen Tour of California and added the Lux tour to give him some more race miles in his legs.
Women’s World Cup racing continues this weekend in Spain while the sprinters will have a chance to stretch their legs in Switzerland.
Alberto Contador (Astana) returns to racing following a short break after the spring classics at the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré in France. With L’Alpe d’Huez on the menu, it should be an ideal chance to see who’s coming into form ahead of the Tour de France.
June 2-6 – Luxembourg
The return of Lance Armstrong will catapult this relatively modest race back into the headlines.
Armstrong crashed out of the Tour of California and added the five-day Luxembourg tour to his schedule to give him extra racing days in his legs as the Tour pulls ever closer. Armstrong is also expected to race the Tour de Suisse later this month.
Armstrong has a long link with the Luxembourg tour. It’s the first stage-race he won in his cancer comeback, taking the overall in 1998 that heralded his return to cycling’s elite stage. A similar result in Comeback 2.0 would bolster confidence ahead of the Tour.
Following a short opening prologue, the four road stages look like a combination of Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, with short, punchy climbs, narrow roads and the threat of crosswinds and rain.
Joining Armstrong at RadioShack will be Andreas Kloden, Tiago Machado and Bjorn Selander.
Defending champion Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) and Luxembourgoise rider will be back, with Vacansoleil and ISD each bringing strong squads after both were overlooked by the Giro and Tour organizers. Kim Kirchen, also from Luxembourg, will be lining up for Katusha.
47th GP du Canton d’Argovie (1.HC)
June 6 – Switzerland
The 193km starting and finishing in Gippingen is only a hilly course that favors a small bunch finish. Last year, Peter Velits kicked his way onto the top podium spot. This year’s field includes Gerard Ciolek (Milram), Theo Bos and Heinrich Haussler (Cervélo), Marcus Burghardt (BMC), Nicholas Roche (Ag2r), Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil) and one Riccardo Riccò (Flaminia), racing for the first time since he was overlooked to participate in the Giro.
GP Ciudad de Valladolid (CDM)
June 6 – Spain
World Cup racing resumes with a stop in northern Spain.
The long, wide-open loop across the mostly flat country west of Valladolid is ideal for sprinters.
The race is the sixth stop in the nine-round World Cup series. Ina-Yoko Teutenberg (HTC-Columbia), hot off winning the inaugural World Cup race in China last month, should be counted among the favorites for victory in Spain.
The big loop pushes southwest over the Rio Duero and across the open fields of Castilla y León. The exposed country provides little protection from wind and sun, which can be extreme. At Tordesillas, the route pushes north, before doubling back for a hilly run toward Valladolid. The race concludes with three laps in Valladolid.
Marianne Vos (ARC) will want a strong ride to bolster his lead in the overall World Cup standings. She holds a solid lead over second-place Grace Verebeke (LLT), with 155-114. Emma Johansson (RSC) remains third with 101 points.
June 6-13 – France
Alberto Contador (Astana) and L’Alpe d’Huez will put the Dauphiné Libéré in the center of the cycling world going into next week.
Cycling’s most famous climb and the sport’s most prolific active stage racer are coming together for the Dauphiné, which will be organized for the first time this year under ASO, race promoters of the Tour de France, Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix and other top French events.
Contador has never won the Dauphiné Libéré, considered by many as a premier litmus test of form ahead of July’s Tour. sContador has already begged off this year’s edition, saying that after a busy and successful spring, he’ll likely use the eight-day Dauphiné as way to fine-tune his engine ahead of July’s big show.
Although he’s starting the Dauphiné any pressure to win the overall, it’s hard to imagine that Contador will not want to add a victory atop the 21-lacets at L’Alpe d’Huez to his already prodigious palmares.
Alejandro Valverde’s two-year racing ban – handed down this week – will mean that the two-time defending champion will not be at the start line Sunday in Évian-les-Bains along the shores of Lake Geneva.
If Contador sticks to his plan to race without too much pressure, there’s no shortage of contenders ready to step into the void.
Perhaps the Dauphiné could deliver a French winner (Cyril Dessel or Pierrick Fedrigo) or a young rider (Romain Sicard or Teejay Van Garderen). Others to watch include Denis Menchov (Rabobank), Chris Horner (RadioShack), Tom Danielson and David Millar (Garmin-Transitions), Jurgen Van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky).
The parcours seems tailor-made for a Contador victory, however, with a mix of sprinter stages, a long time trial and two hard days in the Alps.
The race opens with a 6.8km prologue in Évian-les-Bains featuring a fourth-category climb in the opening 3km. That’s followed by two bumpy transition stages that could deliver a big breakaway to challenge for the GC if the sprint teams don’t keep a lid on things.
The long, 49km individual time in stage 3 from Monteau to Sorgues features a steep, third-category climb in the opening half of the otherwise flat route that also seems to favor Contador.
That’s followed by the first of two summit finishes, with the rolling, 210km stage to the base of the Cat. 1 summit finale at Risoul in stage 4. The short, 144km but potentially explosive stage 5 to Grenoble climbs the HC summit Chamrousse that could prove hard to control.
L’Alpe d’Huez is back on the Dauphiné menu in the penultimate stage that also tackles the HC Glandon before the famous 21 switchbacks to the summit.
If the GC isn’t decided yet, the wild, 148km finish stage to Sallanches tackles the short but steep Cat. 3 Cote de Domancy five times in the final 60km.
If Contador doesn’t win the Dauphiné this year, it will be because he doesn’t want to. Already a winner of three of four stage races he’s started this season, this route is ideal for his characteristics.