After Paris-Nice in early March, the next major rendezvous for the international peloton in France is the Critérium International, based in Charleville-Mézières in the French Ardennes since 2001. Since then, the race format has remained the same and the parcours has changed very little. The race gets under way on Saturday with a long, predominantly flat first stage covering 187 km from Vouziers to Charleville-Mézières.
The second and final day - Sunday - will surely decide the winner: after a hilly morning stage through the Ardennes finishing with a four km climb at six percent gradient, the riders have to back up for a flat, individual time trial of just 8.3 km. The Critérium International has been known as the "mini Tour de France" to some...
Last year's winner, CSC's Jens Voigt will surely want to defend his title and achieve the top GC placing for the third time, since he also won it in 1999. Helped by his best friend, 2005 Paris-Nice winner Bobby Julich, and Tour de France contender Ivan Basso, Voigt will be the man to watch out for - as well as Alexandre Vinokourov and Andreas Klöden (T-Mobile), Jörg Jaksche (Liberty Seguros), Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux), Laurent Brochard (Bouygues Telecom), Erik Dekker and Michael Boogerd (Rabobank). Even though the race is not part of the ProTour, of the 21 squads that will line-up on Saturday, 14 are ProTeams, a somewhat liberal interpretation of UCI rule 2.1.005, which limits non-ProTour races to a maximum of 50% ProTour teams.
ProTeams: Team CSC, Fundacion Ciclista Euskadi, Illes Balears, Liberty Seguros Team, Saunier Duval - Prodir, Bouygues Telecom, Credit Agricole, Cofidis, Le Credit Par Telephone, Francaise Des Jeux, Gerolsteiner, T-Mobile Team, Liquigas - Bianchi, Rabobank, Phonak Hearing Systems
Continental Pro Teams: Landbouwkrediet - Colnago, Mrbookmaker.Com - Sports Tech, Comunidad Valenciana, Ag2R Prevoyance, Agritubel, R.A.G.T. Semences, Ceramica Panaria
Stage 1 - March 26: Vouziers - Charleville-Mézières, 187 km
Stage 2 - March 27: Les Vieilles Forges - Monthermé, 98.5 km
Stage 3 - March 27: Charleville-Mézières ITT, 8.3 km