Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Route du Sud 2012 - A Preview

The above photo is of the view from the summit of the infamous Col du Tourmalet, but this is not the Tour de France - that's still two and a half weeks away - this is the 2.1 rated 4 day stage race, the 'Route du Sud' which takes place in the Pyrénées between Thursday 14th June and Sunday the 17th, this week.

The Race
Held since 1977 this will be the 36th edition. Some riders have traditionally used this race as final prep for the Tour and no doubt some will do this week, however this race mostly features domestic pro's and and pro-continental teams which makes this far more than just a dull training race and should lead to some exciting racing, especially come the mountainous stage 3 as this will be one of the biggest races of the year for many of these teams and riders.

Previous winners in history include names like Francesco Moser and Stephen Roche and more recently the likes of Levi Leipheimer, Thomas Voeckler, Daniel Martin, David Moncoutié and Vasili Kiryienka so this years winner will be in good company.

The Route
The race takes place in southern France around the Pyrenees mountain range. Though only stage 3 features high mountains, including the infamous Col du Tourmalet, the rest of the race is certainly not flat. Right from the off the course is undulating and lumpy and all four stages feature at least 2 categorised climbs. Anybody thinking they will get an easy ride here is mistaken. 

Stage 1
Stage 2
Stage 3 will decide the race. The peloton will be split on the slopes of the category 1 Tourmalet at around the halfway mark leaving a more select bunch going over the top. That bunch will then have to face the category 2 Col du Soulor, the category 1 Col du Spandelles around 25km from the end and finally the deceptive uncategorised climb to the finish which could well be harder than the route map suggests, especially after the preceding gruelling 200 kilometres. Whoever reaches the final climb to the finish in the front group must have the legs and energy reserves to tackle the final slope which will be hit at considerable speed as riders start their final attacks. A good descender may get away on the descent of the Spandelle but having the legs to stay away is another matter. 

Stage 3
Stage 4

The Col du Tourmalet
A focal point of this race, cycling fans are no strangers to the Tourmalet, after all the peak has featured more times than any other pass in the Tour de France and has a rich history as one of the Tours most famous climbs. The Tourmalet is the highest road in the central Pyrenees rising to 6,993ft and in this race will be tackled from the East making this climb 17.2km long averaging out at 7.4% gradient and at times peaking at just over 10%. This is a true climbers climb and could be the decisive point of the four day race.

Col du Tourmalet profile from east (Sainte Maria).
The Tourmalet

The Teams
Note the lack of WorldTour teams at this race, with only Movistar and AG2R La Mondiale representing the top flight. Do not assume this will make for boring racing, quite the opposite in fact. Of the remaining Domestic and Pro-Continental teams this is one of the biggest races in their season - these riders are turning up to win! 

The Contenders
I will not go into much detail here, as there are far to many possible winners to mention them all. One thing I will say is that the French teams will certainly be out fighting for nothing less than overall victory so all of the French team leaders stand a chance of a podium place. There are however a few riders I would put in as favourites based on recent performances.

Colombian rider Nairo Quintana of Movistar has that typical Colombian climbing style but already, at the age of 22, has developed into a team leader and put himself up against the big boys in the WorldTour. The course suits his abilities and he looked strong in last weeks Dauphine but the competition may have been a little high for him. This is a different race and he could well aim for the win in a field of of less talented riders. Already having taken overall victory in this years Tour of Murcia, a similar race, he will be looking to add this to his Palmares.

Europcar have bought a strong team as expected due to it being a French race with Anthony Charteau and Alexandre Pichot both capable of good rides. Leading the team though will be French favourite and last years Tour de France hero Tommy Voeckler who will be looking to put in a good performance ahead of this years Tour, which would serve as a much needed confidence boost.

AG2R La Mondiale also take a strong team with Romain Bardet the likely leader. He's still young at 22 but shows he can handle the steep stuff on stage 3 of the Tour of Turkey in which he later finished fifth overall. This would be a great addition to his palmares. The WorldTour team have only recently got their first season wins on the board so will be out looking for victory once again. Packing the punch of a WorldTour team in a Pro-Continental dominated race will certainly appeal to them.

I can't talk about favourites without mention of (a personal favourite) Jon Tiernan-Locke of British Continental outfit Endura Racing who's early season form saw him storm to several European victories, with Tommy Voeckler even recognising the young Brits talent and naming him as the man to beat in these races. Tiernan-Locke has been off the road for a month after suffering a broken collarbone in the Lincoln GP though has been training on the Turbo since his accident. The uphill finish suits Lockes capabilities as we saw earlier in the season and his Endura team are no strangers to looking after him in European stage races. This could be a chance for Tiernan-Locke to shine ahead of any transfer come the end of the season.

A full start list can be found here

There will be no live coverage though France3 will be showing daily highlights which will feature on Youtube later on. I will be doing my best to review each stage and regular text updates can be found at Steephills Twitter feed: @Steephill

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