Racin' for your nation

This weekend some of cycling's biggest names will battle their respective countrymen and women for...

Tales from the peloton, June 27, 2007

As the Tour de France nears, so does the majority of the world's national championships - the traditional Tour precursor. Greg Johnson searched the globe to provide a comprehensive guide to key national titles, with reporting from Cyclingnews staff

This weekend some of cycling's biggest names will battle their respective countrymen and women for the right to sport their respective national jerseys for the next 12 months. For some it will mean the chance to score some extra coin, with the majority of ProTour riders being offered lucrative bonuses to bring an attention-grabbing national jersey into a team, especially with the Tour a matter of days away.

While the majority of the world's nations will hold their respective titles this weekend, some do differ. For instance Australia and New Zealand's championships have already been run, much earlier in the year, while South Africa held its titles at the start of June. The Canadian nationals on the other hand won't be held until the following week, while some, like Japan, and Uzbekistan, held theirs last weekend. Additionally, some nations like Germany held the opening races last weekend, with the remainder to follow this weekend.

In just breaking news, the British national championships has been cancelled as a results of the extensive flooding in England and its impact on resources.

Austria

The Austrian championships come on the eve of country's national tour - the Tour of Austria. Despite being overshadowed by July's main event, this race has extremely challenging mountains and the nationals serve as a form indicator for rider's home tour.

Austria has a number of top-notch professions riders, making predictions for this weekend's event difficult. Defending champion Bernhard Kohl will be looking to double up with another victory, but should the race come down to a sprint, look out for René Haselbacher (Astana) and Bernhard Eisel (T-Mobile).

Austrian-based Team Volksbank is of course sending its whole squad, freshly motivated after Gerrit Glomser's eighth overall at the Tour de Suisse. Glomser rode to a magical second place in Stage 6 up to Crans Montana.

The race is being held at the same location as the International Raiffeisen Grand Prix in Judendorf. The course has been changed slightly from its usual route, to make it a very challenging 24.7 kilometre loop, which Elite riders must master seven times for a total distance of 172 km.

The event was last held here in 2003, when Georg Totschnig won the title. He has since retired and will put his hopes on brother Harald, who rides for the strong Elk Haus Simplon team. By Bjorn Haake

Belgium

Belgium's national championships takes place this Sunday in the Oost-Vlaanderen (west Flanders) town of Ronse, which could easily claim to be Flanders' cycling capital. The world championships have been held there twice before, 1963 and 1988, the National title twice, 1983 and 1991 in addition to the annual post-Tour criterium.

With rain expected for the mainly flat 246.6km race, it's not expected to see a sprint finish, as a small group may be able to slip off the front and take advantage of the slippery conditions like last year's.

Reigning champion Niko Eeckhout (Chocolade Jacques - Topsport Vlaanderen) is unsure about defending his title. "The course does not suit me, it is too difficult," he told wielernieuws.be. "I will wait and see how it goes, but I don't have a problem to ride for one of my teammates."

Last year's runner-up Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) is the title favourite, but has also played down his chances. Another rider to watch is 2005 world champion Tom Boonen who has only finished the Elite championship once in his well distinguished career. Boonen will surely be looking to take the Belgian jersey to London the following weekend.

Other rider's to watch include three time champion and soon to retire Tom Steels (Predictor-Lotto), Leif Hoste (Predictor-Lotto), who will be looking to make up for his disappointment at finishing second in the Tour of Flanders, and Peter van Petegem (Quickstep - Innergetic), who can never be discounted when racing in Belgium and under 'classic' conditions. By Paul Verkuylen

Britain

With the chance to wear the national jersey at the Tour de France's London debut on the line, the smart money for this weekend's Elite men's British champion title would have been on the Grand Tour contestants. However, due to extreme weather conditions within the region Roger Hammond (T-Mobile), David Millar (Saunier Duval) and 22 year-old rising stars Mark Cavendish (T-Mobile) and Geraint Thomas (Barloworld) won't have the chance to battle for the rights to wear the Union Jack at July's Tour. Event ogranisers announced the cancellation of this weekend's national championships just days before the scheduled run.

"The organisers deeply regret having to cancel these events," said race director Andy Cawley. "We have been working with the police during this very difficult situation and understand they are very stretched. We felt the responsible decision was to cancel the events. We will now work with British Cycling to look at potential new dates."

An announcement from the organisers read: "The race organisers felt it was important the emergency services and police were not asked to divert resources to helping with the cycle race when the recovery from the severe weather is still ongoing. Also, some sections of the routes for the June 30 and July 1 races are still closed."

The East Riding of Yorkshire Council will now work with British Cycling to organise an alternative, post-Tour date for the event. By Greg Johnson

Denmark

The ancient Viking city Roskilde will play host to the Danish nationals. While the town is better known for its annual July music festival than cycling, the local Roskilde Cykle Ring club decided to organise the race as apart of its 75th anniversary celebrations.

Actions starts on June 27 with the women and junior women's time trial, and finish on Sunday with the Elite men's road race. The city's flat terrain will most likely result in the race be held together by defending champion Allan Johansen and his Team CSC teammates. In addition to Johansen, the CSC team will have up and coming talents Matti Breschel and Alex Rasmussen as title contenders. By Paul Verkuylen

France

France is guaranteed a new Time Trial champion as reigning multiple champion Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) hasn't entered. Christophe Kern (Crédit Agricole) will wear the TT number one this year since last year's runner up Didier Rous retired. After his flamboyant win at the Dauphiné, Christophe Moreau (AG2r Prévoyance) might finally grab the TT title which has always escaped him, while Frédéric Finot (Roubaix-Lille-Métropole) could be an outside chance following his Route du Sud stage win.

Florent Brard (Caisse d'Epargne) will defend his road title on the Aurillac, Cantal province circuit. The 21.6 kilometre course will be covered 11 times for a total distance of 237.6km, with 270 metres of climbing on each lap.

On paper, Bouygues Telecom doesn't look overly special, but the team knows how to make a race hard and benefit from its superior numbers. Statistically, the squad wins the French title two out of every three years and will be especially keen to make up for loosing at home in Vendée last year.

Although Bouygues Telecom now has foreigners on its roster, it still has 23 French riders available for the national championship, including former champions Thomas Voeckler and Pierrick Fedrigo, who have prepared for the event specifically at the Route du Sud. Former world champion Veteran Laurent Brochard is always a candidate, despite having never won the title.

With 18 riders each, Ag2r, with the likes of Moreau, Sylvain Calzati and John Gadret, is in a better position than Française des Jeux, whose Four Days of Dunkirk winner Matthieu Ladagnous could surprise. Other potential champions include William Bonnet, Patrice Halgand and Anthony Charteau (Crédit Agricole), Chavanel and Yann Huguet (Cofidis). Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel), who just won the Boucles de la Mayenne, could take another title having already won in 2002.

In case of bunch sprint, Jean-Patrick Nazon (Ag2r) and Sébastien Chavanel (Française des Jeux) are supposed to be the fastest. On the start list of 150 riders, four French pro cyclists are missing: Jimmy Casper, Arnaud Coyot, Jean-Marc Bideau and Florian Guillou because their sponsor Unibet.com isn't welcome on French soil. By Jean-François Quénet

Germany

The German road race will be held on July 1, in Wiesbaden, the capital of Hessen. The circuit is 15.3 kilometres long, with the men to complete 13 laps, and the women's field doing seven laps.

Of the men's field, top teams include locals Gerolsteiner and Italy-based, German-sponsored Milram, which announced its team in early June . With Marcel Sieberg and Sebastian Siedler on hand to help 1998 and 2003 victor Erik Zabel, Milram will be hoping for a sprint finish.

Gerolsteiner will take advantage of short power climbs to propel Stefan Schumacher into a small front group, hoping he will then outsprint his companions. But don't forget about Fabian Wegmann, who always does well, having won as a junior and finished on the Elite podium twice.

This year's race is wide open and T-Mobile will not have the luxury of determining who it wants to win, a tactic that has worked for years. Gerolsteiner and Milram are sending strong teams, which also means they are more likely to neutralize each other and give the chance for a third outsider in a row to take the honours.

The women's field has a core group of five-to-ten riders that will compete to take the title, including the T-Mobile duo Ina-Yoko Teutenberg and Judith Arndt. The constant up and down of the course, which starts in Kurhaus, Wiesbaden, will be hard on sprinters like 2005 champion Regina Schleicher.

"The race has really only a couple of kilometres of flat roads," said Equipe Nürnberger Versicherung manager Jens Zemke. "Someone who can handle the many changes in terrain the best will be among the potential winners." By Bjorn Haake

Holland

The Dutch title kicks off in Maastricht on June 30 with the women's 123km and the U23 men's 164km road races, on same course that the professionals will use the following day.

The Elite race will most likely be dominated by again by Rabobank. Last year Michael Boogerd won his third title, ahead of his now Rabobank teammate Sebastian Langeveld, when the pair broke away towards the end of the race.

The tight twisting circuit around Limburg's Maastricht and Margraten, with its narrow roads and sharp climbs, will surely break up the peloton during the 203km event.

With retirement on the horizon, Boogerd will be hoping for one last title, but Tour de Suisse Stage 6 winner Thomas Dekker is also keen to wear the national jersey for Rabobank at his first Tour de France next month. Other riders to watch include Bram Tankink (Quick Step - Innergetic), Fourth last year, but has won the event over a similar cuircuit in the U23 class, also Karsten Kroon (Team CSC), who rode strongly at last year's race. By Paul Verkuylen

To read the remaining national championship previews, see Page 2.


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