News feature, August 2, 2005
The ProTour schedule for August means that all teams will be racing for almost every day of the month. Les Clarke takes a look at what's in store for the ProTour and the Women's World Cup, both of which will keep riders and teams busy right throughout the remainder of summer.
After a tiring July for ProTour teams as they battled their way around France, August is upon us, and with it the ProTour and Women's World Cup get right back into the swing of things. With five ProTour events, plus two women's World Cup rounds, it's one of the season's most demanding periods as the season is far from finished.
The calendar for August ProTour races:
August 3-10: Eneco Tour of Benelux
August 13: Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian
August 15-23: Deutschland Tour
August 27 - September 18: Vuelta a Espana
August 28: GP Ouest France-Plouay
Women's World Cup schedule:
August 20: Grand Prix of Wales
August 27: GP de Plouay
Five ProTour events fill the four weeks, with two being one-day events (Clasica San Sebastian and GP Ouest France-Plouay), two shorter stage races (Tour of Benelux and Deutschland Tour) and a Grand Tour (Vuelta a Espana) thrown in for good measure. Some observers make the point that August is no busier than April, when there are eight ProTour events, including the cobbled classics of Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders. The difference, however, is that April's races are mostly single-day events, with the longest race being the Tour de Romandie, which lasts six days. The total number of days racing in April is 17, whereas in August there are 24 days spent slugging it out against the world's best over half a dozen countries.
In April riders are relatively fresh and working into some form - in August they are either carrying form over from the Tour de France or coming out of mid-season races and training blocks. It's sure to stretch riders to the limit both physically and mentally, and potentially causes plenty of headaches for team management.
Team managers are fearful of the impact August's schedule will have on their squads, and recently CSC's Australian directeur sportif, Scott Sunderland, expressed concerns in relation to his team's ability to field enough riders and support staff to meet the demands of such a hectic programme over a single month. The need for masseurs, mechanics and other support staff is intense, with big ProTour points on offer and teams already weary after their Tour de France campaigns. There are also races in teams' home countries to consider, adding another factor to the already cluttered checklist of things to do in the month.
Teams such as Discovery and T-Mobile should be ably equipped to deal with the demand on resources and logistical issues associated with having separate squads strung out around Europe, but smaller teams such as Domina Vacanze and Cofidis will most likely struggle to make an impression without the budget to match the bigger outfits. Which begs the question - will the ProTour actually make racing more enjoyable and interesting to the public? It's at this point in the season that the ProTour, as a competition, needs to recapture the public's imagination after the spectacle of the Tour de France. Fans will want to see teams with their best riders racing as hard as possible after the claims made by the UCI before the ProTour was implemented that they would be treated to the best teams at more events more often.
Here's a quick rundown of each ProTour event and what you're likely to see:
Eneco Tour of Benelux
The inclusion of this event in the ProTour calendar was controversial because it was a response by the UCI to calls that their proposed calendar of events didn't include the Benelux region. Chances are that many of the riders involved in the Tour de France may sit this one out, which in itself presents an opportunity for fringe riders to stake their claim to a ProTour event win. One-day riders such as Juan Antonio Flecha and Miguel Martin Perdiguero will be preparing for Clasica San Sebastian, so it's likely to be a sprint fest over the predominantly flat parcours around Belgium and Luxembourg. Look out for Petacchi to add a number of wins to his tally for 2005 now he's been selected in Fassa Bortolo's squad for the race.
Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian
There'll be a quality field gathered in the Basque country for this race, a landmark of the old World Cup series, where breakaway merchants can flex their muscles in a 220km classic tailor-made for riders such as Bettini, Davis, Rebellin and Flecha. Danilo Di Luca will be looking to extend or at least maintain his lead in the ProTour standings. Most teams will have some of their Tour de France stars at this race; after post-Tour crits and a small break they'll be ready to get back into the action with a highly-competitive hitout that boasts past winners such as Indurain, Jalabert, Bettini and Rebellin. Fans will be treated to great weather, strong racing and plenty of stars to sign their autograph books.
This will be the surprise packet of August, with riders such as Erik Zabel and Andreas Kloden looking to perform well on home turf after a July of discontent for both riders. Like Italians in the Giro, Germans in the Tour of Germany will probably feature in the results, but the racing should be of interest to most observers. With over 1500km of racing, there'll be something for everyone at this event, and for this reason most teams will try and field a strong team capable of taking at least one or two of the prizes on offer. Look for a victory from T-Mobile or CSC. Discovery Channel will be saving their efforts for a Vuelta win and hence a Grand Tour clean sweep, and Gerolsteiner may take a stage but not much more. It could well be a solid offering for fans and riders alike.
Vuelta a Espana
The 'forgotten' Tour of the three big ones, the Vuelta a Espana is normally dominated by Spanish riders on home soil. Last year it was Heras who took overall victory after a spirited fight from Paco Mancebo. The strong winds, high mountains and intense heat of this race normally make it the most entertaining Grand Tour of the season. That may well be the case again in 2005, but it will have to be totally nailbiting to compete with fans' opinions of the 2005 Giro, which kept the girls boys and well entertained for three weeks around Italy. Heras and his Liberty team believe he's a threat for 2005, but those who saw Alejandro Valverde's stage 10 Tour de France win will know that young man has the potential to go all the way in his national tour. With plenty of politiking occurring at Liberty as we speak, they may be a lesser force than they appear on paper, and it's well-known that the Spanish outfit is not a happy campsite at present. Anything can happen in Don Quixote country, and short of being hit on the head there could be some sore ones as echelons form across the plain come the end of August.
GP Ouest France-Plouay
A quick scroll down the results of last year's GP Ouest France-Plouay indicates that this year's field will most likely feature plenty of young riders keen to impress on the ProTour stage. This is compounded by the fact that the Vuelta a Espana starts the day before the French race, and as such many critics were surprised to see the inclusion of it in the ProTour calendar. If Phillippe Gilbert is riding look to him to take out the 200km scramble as his Francaise des Jeux team need more wins in 2005 and the young Belgian is in a rich vein of form.
Looking away from the ProTour circuit there's even more racing to focus attention on, both in Europe and in the US.
Women's World Cup
The women's World Cup has been marred by the tragedy involving the Australian Women's Team, but the big prize is still on offer with valuable points up for grabs in Great Britain and France. Australian Oenone Wood leads the World Cup standings, but German rider Judith Arndt will be looking to make up ground on her teammate in the next two events. Equipe Nurnberger sit in a virtually unassailable position, but the battle between their top two riders should make for entertaining racing.
No Nicole Cooke for the event in Wales, something the young Welsh woman is utterly frustrated about. Her recurring knee injury requires additional surgery has sidelined her for the event, and home fans will miss out on seeing this strong rider tipped for victory on home soil.
Last year's GP de Plouay saw Wood consolidate her lead in the overall World Cup standings, and in 2005 she's in a similar position once again. Look for a few surprises in the result on the day, but the smart money will be on the Australian to assert her dominance over the women's field.
In North America there's no time for a summer beach trip, with four NRC races scheduled for August; all teams are expected to be at full strength as American cycling fans take their eyes off Lance and France and focus again on domestic affairs. The NORBA MTB series hits the finishing straight with three events during the month, where men's and women's titles are far from decided, making for some strong contests.
USA NRC races, including USPRO National Criterium Championships
These rounds of the NRC offer Health Net a chance to extend their domination of the domestic US racing circuit, but there have been frailties in the Netters camp at times this season, when a number of teams such as Colavita Sutter Home, Kodak Gallery Sierra Nevada and Jelly Belly/Pool Gel have been able to take strong results. Look out for Health Net's USPRO Champ Chris Wherry to be fired up and seeking some more good results in his national champion's jersey, particularly at the National Criterium Championships. Riders will also have one eye on next month's San Francisco GP, which may provide some younger riders with the impetus to rise to the challenge and take a podium or two.
NORBA Series #6, 7 and 8
With the World Cup XC circuit taking a rest during August, the NORBA series steps up another gear with three events over the month. With Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Gary Fisher) and Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) trading blows at the top of the leaderboard, there are plenty of points up for grabs at a time when many racers are starting to feel the effects of a pretty busy schedule.
Both these riders will want to come away with a big haul of points to secure victory; and with JHK carrying good form into the tail end of the NORBA series. But Canadian National Champ Kabush won't let him get away with an easy win. In the women's field, Shonny Vanlandingham (Luna Womens MTB Team) looks to be the form rider with three events remaining and may upset more fancied rivals if she continues her winning ways.
Keep checking Cyclingnews.com for the results of all these races and more at www.cyclingnews.com