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Euro Racing this Week: 2011 European calendar opens in France, Italy

Editor’s note: With the European calendar getting underway this week, it’s time for a return to Andrew Hood’s regular weekly column, Euro Racing This Week. Look for it on VeloNews.com each Wednesday during the season.

After some tasty appetizers in Australia and Argentina, racing gets down to business this week in Europe with the season’s first events.

European racing unfolds seemingly one week at a time, as nations with milder weather click into gear earlier in the season than their snowbound neighbors to the north. This week, it’s Italy and France. Next week, Spain will get things going with Mallorca Challenge, followed by the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal in mid-February before Omloop Het Nieuwsblad finally opens the Belgian calendar in late February.

64th Giro della Provincia di Reggio Calabria (2.1)

January 28-30, Italy

This race had has fits and starts during its run, with interruptions as recently as the late 1990s and 2006-07, before returning for its latest incarnation in 2008. In fact, it used to be a one-day race until 2008, when organizers expanded the format to three stages.

Held in the beautiful countryside of Reggio Calabria — the “toe” of Italy’s boot — the race typically boasts spring-like weather to welcome riders for what will be the first race of the 2011 season.

Most of the Italian ProTeam and pro continental teams don’t want to miss the season debut on home roads.

Liquigas-Cannondale and Lampre-ISD, which brings Damiano Cunego and Alessandro Petacchi, will knock shoulders will the likes of Alessandro Bertolini and Francesco Ginanni (Androni Giocattoli), Oscar Gatto (Farnese Neri) and Filippo Savini (Colnago-CSF). Michael Schumacher, hoping to get his career back on track after getting busted for doping in 2008, is even on the start list for Miche, which also signed Tino Zaballa over the weekend. Race web site

32nd GP d’Ouverture La Marseillaise (1.1)

January 30, France

Team Type 1 makes its European debut with the 139.7km one-day slugfest that traditionally opens the French calendar.

The French like to win this one — it’s also one of the 13 legs in the season-long French Cup — and some of France’s biggest names will be at the start line. Among them will be Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), 2009 winner Rémi Pauriol (FDJ), Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r), Julien El Fares (Cofidis) and Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil).

Defending champion Jonathan Hivert is back with his Saur-Sojasun team, which earned its first ever bid to the Tour de France last week. In all, eight French teams help make up the 18-team field that also includes Omega Pharma-Lotto and Katusha.

The course starts and finishes in Marseille and loops around the Provencal countryside with three officially rated climbed in what’s an otherwise bumpy course to start the season. Breakaways have a chance to stay clear if they can gap the main pack over the final, unrated climb at the Col de la Gineste less than 15km to go on a downhill run to the line. Race web site

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