EARLY SEASON FRENCH TEST FOR SIGMA
Sigma Sport Specialized will take advantage of its newly-acquired UCI Continental status this weekend to ride the UCI 1.2 Paris-Troyes in northern France.
Team leader Matt Stephens returns to the race after riding it some 20 years ago with top French amateur club, ACBB.
“We’ve done training camps in Wales and Tuscany but we’ve not done the same racing as someone like Endura,” Stephens explained. “We’ll go with an open mind, but we won’t be out of our depth, it’s only a 1.2.
“Wouter [Sybrandy], Kit [Gilham] and Simon [Richardson] are all in good shape so we’re hoping for a reasonable result. It’s not a training race, we want to do well there. A top ten would be good,” Stephens added.
The team leaves British shores on Friday for the 170km hilly test on Sunday. “When there are no Premier Calendars on we’re looking at racing abroad,” said Stephens.
“It’ll be a bit of an eye-opener because it’s a field of 220 riders but it will give some of the younger guys an opportunity to gain a bit of an insight into races like this and see if it’s really for them”.
CAVENDISH TO MISS GHENT-WEVELGEM
Mark Cavendish has opted to miss Ghent-Wevelgem, one of his season targets for 2010.
The Manxman suffered from dental problems over the winter, and as such, has not been able to do the same amount of training as last year.
Cavendish will instead ride the Tour of Catalunya.
PENDRAGON READY FOR AFRICAN ADVENTURE
Pendragon-Le Col-Colnago have gone off the beaten track for their foreign debut – to Northern Africa for the UCI-ratified Tour of Libya, a five-day stage race which commences on Saturday.
“It’s exciting – I can’t tell you enough how tired I am of this weather,” rider Yanto Barker said, who is envisaging 20C sunshine in the predominantly desert-covered country.
Libya is far from an orthodox early-season racing destination. Barker explained: “Nick [Bourne, Pendragon managing director] was keen that we got four or five days of warm racing before the Premier Calendar starts, and this works perfectly well.” Also, it is difficult to enter European races without UCI Continental status.
“It’s not a major objective, it should work really well for practicing teamwork. I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the race.”
“It’ll be interesting to see what the organization, food and accommodation is like,” he added, recalling an unpleasant gastronomic experience at the 2006 Tour of Siam. Barker pinpointed Chris Opie, who is returning to the UK after several years racing in Holland, as a man to watch for any sprint finishes.
Following the race’s conclusion, Pendragon compete in the 1.2-rated GP Al Fatah on March 19.
Pendragon-Le Col-Colnago for Tour of Libya
ORBEA MAKES FIRST CONTINENTAL FORAY
The Orbea For Goodness Shakes team made its first foray into continental racing with the Paris-Evreux at the weekend.
“We were under no illusions how hard it was going to be,” explained rider-cum-manager, James Whalting.
“Most of the French teams have been racing since early February, so they had good race fitness and were fighting hard for the win. Our aim was always to immerse the guys in a big early season race to see where everyone’s form was and we’re pleased how everyone coped.
“We’ve got a lot of young riders in the team and the experience of lining up against some of the best teams in France, in a classic race, will serve them well for the rest of the season and beyond.
“We’ve had a bit of illness in the team since training camp and this affected some of the performances, but on the whole the guys acquitted themselves well and now have some quality race miles in their legs ready for the Premier Calendar campaign.”
Whatling was also keen to not the difference between the style of racing the riders are accustomed to in the UK to that they experienced in France: “the French tend to race quite smoothly with a constant high speed, unlike the stop/start nature of British racing,” he explained.
“The high pace, lots of climbing and crosswinds made the race what it was on Sunday and, with only 59 finishers out of 120 starters, the quality of the racing and the severity of the course and conditions certainly took their toll”.
The race was won by Tomasz Olejnik (USSAPB) with Orbea’s top finisher, Ben Thompson, coming home in 36th.
Kristian Downs (white helmet, blue and white kit) grits his teeth in Paris-Evreux