The past week or so has seen the “real” European racing schedule click fully into gear. Anyone who’s watched early season racing cannot deny there’s been so top-notch action across the board, but Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico saw the first hard-fought, gritty GC battles of the season.
This week, stage racing takes a back seat as the classics season opens Saturday with Milan-San Remo. The Italian classic is the longest race of the year and always one of the most exciting. Watch for Philippe Gilbert (Omega-Lotto) and a few other head-bangers to try to fend off the sprinters with attacks on the Poggio. Check back to VeloNews for a complete preview of the race.
On Wednesday, Geert Steegmans (Quick Step) took his first victory since February 2009 when he dashed to victory in the 66th Nokere-Koerse in Belgium. Racing continues in Belgium and France, but all eyes will be on the Via Roma this weekend for the finale of La Primavera. Reporters Brian Holcombe is there, as is photographer Graham Watson.
1st Handzame Classic (1.1)
Belgium, March 18
A new race for 2011, this race across Flanders slots in behind Nokere Koerse to give teams who made the trip to Belgium another shot at victory. Many of the same teams are lining up, including Team Type 1 and SpiderTech.
France, March 19
The 12th running of this hilly course should see the French riders battling it out for victory on home roads. Laurent Mangel won last year for Saur-Sojasun. No surprise here, French teams dominate the field, with Vacansoleil and Saxo Bank providing a foreign touch. SpiderTech continues its busy European week.
102nd Milan-San Remo (HIS)
March 19, Italy
34th Cholet-Pays de Loire (1.1)
March 20, France
Many of the top French stars will make the start a day after M-SR, including Thomas Voeckler, hot off two stage victories last week at Paris-Nice.
French teams dominate the field, with SpiderTech keeping very busy.
The women also race, covering four laps on a 28km circuit for a 112km battle to the line.