After a few frenetic weeks, with as many as four races in one day, European racing takes a relative breather.
There is one major stage race this week and two one-day classics, but what the week lacks in quantity it certainly makes up for in quality.
In Italy, the Giro di Trentino clicks into gear as one of the major warm-up races for the Giro d’Italia while in Belgium, the spring classics wind down with a dramatic double-whammy, with Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday and Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday.
The women’s World Cup also continues and there’s a smattering of other races, including the GP Llodio and the Vuelta a la Rioja in Spain, and the Giro dell’Appenino in Italy.
34th Giro del Trentino (2.1)
April 20-23 – Italy
Held in the mountains of northern Italy, this four-day race packs a real punch, with some challenging climbs ideal for GC riders heading into the Giro d’Italia.
Plenty of Giro winners have done well here in search of the maglia rosa, with such riders as Paolo Savoldelli, Gilberto Simoni and Damiano Cunego coming out of Trentino victorious only to win the Giro as well.
There are plenty of Giro contenders lining up in Trentino this year, with defending champion Ivan Basso and Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), Stefano Garzelli (Acqua e Sapone), Michele Scarponi (Androni) and Riccardo Riccò (Flaminia).
Gilberto Simoni (Androni) will be riding his final Trentino this year. Gibo hails from the region and won the race in 2003.
74th Flèche Wallonne (HC)
April 21 – Belgium
The first of two Belgium classics in the Ardennes, the “Wallonne Arrow” is not quite on par with the heavyweight “monuments,” but provides a stiff challenge with its traditional finish atop the Mur de Huy.
Changes to the route this year should make Flèche an even harder race and could give attacking riders more chances of holding off the top riders who typically stay hidden away in the main pack before a final, furious charge up the mur.
Only five riders have achieved the Flèche-Liège double in the same year, with Alejandro Valverde the last to pull it off in 2006.
Travel problems due to ash billowing out of an Icelandic volcano have still made it difficult for some riders to get to Belgium, but most have had plenty of time to make other arrangements, unlike Amstel Gold Race, which saw several big names miss the race.
(Watch for a full race preview later on VeloNews.com)
13th Flèche Wallonne Femmes (WC)
April 21 – Belgium
Marianne Vos has owned this stop on the women’s World Cup, winning three consecutive titles atop the steep Mur de Huy climb. The 109.8km route traces the final section used on the men’s race later the same day. Nicole Cooke won three editions in a four-year span from 2003-06 before Vos’s domination.
The race is the fourth leg of the nine-round World Cup series. Through three events, Vos leads after taking victory in the season opener.
61st GP Llodio (1.1)
April 24 – Spain
Another race up in Spain’s Basque Country ideal for riders with a strong finishing kick who can get over the endless string of short but steep climbs that pepper the countryside. Sammy Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) won last year’s edition and Spanish rides typically shine, where local knowledge of roads comes in handy. Italian Marco Velo won in 1999 and he’s the only non-Spanish rider to win in 15 years.
96th Liège-Bastogne-Liège (HC)
April 25 – Belgium
One of cycling’s most prized events, Liège rightly lives up to its “monument” status.
Just as Flanders and Roubaix attract a certain breed of head-bangers, Liège’s demanding parcours draws out the sleeker, lighter climbers and puncheurs who can navigate the sharp hills of the Belgian Ardennes.
As the name implies, the route rolls south out of Liège for nearly 100km before making a U-turn at Bastogne. The race invariably shifts gears as it turns north for the final 165km, where the most challenging and decisive climbs await.
The Redoute at 226.5km is seen as the traditional race-making climb, but the inclusion of the Roche aux Faucons at 241km has dramatically altered the dynamics of the race. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) powered away on “Falcon’s Rock” last year to earn an impressive solo victory.
(Check back later this week at VeloNews.com for a full Liège preview)
50th Vuelta a la Rioja (1.1)
April 25 – Spain
This race was once several days, but budget restraints last year reduced it to a one-day affair. Held in Spain’s premier wine country (there’s some great touring to be had in the region), the race typically draws a Spanish-heavy field. David García (Xacobeo-Galicia) won last year’s edition and will be back to defend team colors.
71st Giro dell’Appenino (1.1)
April 25 – Italy
Held in the rugged Appennine mountains, the hilly course typically favors Giro-bound riders on good form. Last year’s winner was Vicenzo Nibali (Liquigas), but he’s up racing in Belgium. Italians usually take the flowers on home roads, but such riders as Pavel Tonkov and Evgeni Berzin won back in the go-go ‘90s.