Britain?s David Millar will line up this weekend in the two-day, three stage, Criterium International. On paper, the race seems right up Millar?s street, but the Scot is doubtful about his chances.
?I?m going all right, but I?m still on the way back after getting so ill on Paris-Nice.? Millar told Cycling on Friday evening.
?There?s not much to be done. The numbers aren?t quite there. My body isn?t what it was at Paris-Nice [before falling ill].
I?ll give it 100 percent, but [Slipstream team-mate] Dave Zabriskie is our main man now.?
If the Dauphine Libere is often likened to a mini-Tour de France, then the Criterium is a even smaller version. Rather than the Alps or Pyrenees, though, it?s based in Charleville-Meziers, the capital of the French Ardennes.
Just like in the Tour?s first week, in the lumpy, 193 kilometre-long Saturday stage – almost, but not always, ending in a bunch sprint – the gc riders have to stay out of trouble and watching the breaks.
Then they must show his hand in Sunday morning?s hilly stage, complete with uphill finish before – hopefully – finishing off the opposition in the 8.3 kilometre time trial.
Run by Tour organisers ASO, just like in July, you even get a yellow jersey and cute toy lion for winning – although maybe not so many invites to post-race criteriums.
There?s nothing cute about the racing, either which is always very intense. ?It?s a brutal 48 hours.? is how Millar puts it. ?You have to bury yourself in the hilly stage just to get through to the time trial.?
The weather doesn?t help, either – latest reports are that it is cold and wet.
Big favourite of the weekend has to be Jens Voigt – already the winner of the race in 1999, 2004 and 2007.
In such a short, punchy event, though, there are always plenty of contenders. CSC certainly aren?t putting all their eggs in a Voigt-shaped basket, either: also taking part for the Danish squad are Andy and Frank Schleck, as well as double Criterium winner Bobby Julich.
The big names don?t stop there, either: Rabobank?s Robert Gesink, who came close to taking Paris-Nice, is also racing, whilst Damiano Cunego will lead the Lampre squad. Spaniard Alejandro Valverde, still on the hunt for a big win in 2008, is the top name for the Caisse D?Epargne squad.