Looking at the third edition of the Tour of Missouri, two questions come to my mind: How many stage wins for Cavendish? And will the overall winner be decided in a time trial or via a long break?
In last year’s edition of the Tour of Missouri, Mark Cavendish (Columbia-HTC) won three stages, all after perfectly executed leadouts from his team brought him to position so he could outkick his rival to the line. All eyes will be on him this year to see how many he can take following his six stage wins at the Tour de France in July. How many wins for the man from the Isle of Man this year?
“I’ll be happy with one, I like to win.” said a subdued Cavendish. “I won a stage in every race I’ve done since March 2008 and I want to carry on with that. Obviously every sprint I do I want to win but we’ll see how it goes.”
He will face some stuff competition from Thor Hushovd, green jersey winner at the Tour, and his Cervelo Test Team.
“Like we saw at the Tour de France, he’s a hard man to beat in the sprints. Of course, I’m going to try at the Tour of Missouri.” said Hushovd. “We brought a strong team for the sprint, that’s our goal to try to win a sprint and a stage. We try to be up there everyday and we’ll see what happens at the end of the race.”
With Heinrich Haussler also present, the Cervelo team can play two different cards for sprint finishes. Also in the mix for the sprint finishes are Francesco Chicchi (Liquigas) who beat Cavendish in the final stage last year and Saxo Bank’s JJ Haedo from the ProTour teams.
The sprinters on the domestic teams will try to take advantage of the rivality between Cavendish and Huschovd. For Jelly Belly’s Brad Huff, the only Missouri native in the race, it’s all about being opportunistic.
“We definitely have a lot of heart and being in the State of Missouri, I hope to ride well. “ said Huff who is the only Missouri native in the race. “Anything goes in a sprint, you never know what can happen. With high-powered teams, it will definitely be high speeds, a lot of attacking, very aggressive and hopefully our team can key off of that and be able to go with some moves.”
Saxo Bank’s Jens Voigt has a novel suggestion to keep Cavendish from winning more than one stage. “How about he wins the first stage tomorrow, and then takes the motorbike, jumps on it and keeps riding route 66. “ said Voigt as we learned that the winner of the first stage gets a Buell 1125R motorcycle. “How about that?”
Timetrial or break? In its first edition in 2007, George Hincapie, then riding for Discovery, made his way into a break on the second stage that got over 14 minutes on the field to take the stage win and eventually claim the overall victory. Last year, Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Slipstream) took ownership of the leader’s jersey by winning the difficult timetrial on stage 5 on his way to the overall victory. What will 2009 bring? What stage will decide the overall winner?
Not only did the organizers reverse the direction of the race which now starts in St Louis and ends in Kansas City, they’ve pretty much changed every stage but one to increase the difficulty and hopefully make it less predictable. Adding to the unpredictability is to move of the time trial to Friday, two stages later than last year.
“There’s a lot of distance between now and Friday, “ said Vande Velde about the possibility of the eventual winner coming from a break, “this time of the year there’s a lot of discrepancy in the fitness of different riders in the peloton and priorities, if some sprinter’s team has only won three stages or this or that. I think that there is a good chance that it does happen, the right combination of riders that goes up the road like when George won in 2007, twenty guys going for the win. I hope it’s not like that but there does stand a chance for that to happen.”
It really boils down to controlling the peloton.
“There are a lot of different level of motivation and also levels in the peloton with ProTour teams and domestic squads, “ said BMC’s Jeff Louder who was named the Most Aggressive Rider last year. “this is the time of year when anything can happen. It’s definitely a possibility but then the big squads here like Columbia and Cervelo, they want to bring it together everyday for a sprint so we’ll just have to wait and see.”
The second stage, the 180.9 km (112.4 mi) from Ste Genevieve to Cape Girardeau offers up the first opportunity for a break to make it the line with a big time gap. “It’s one of the most undulating, windy, twisty, turny course than we’ve ever seen and it’s an opportunity for the leadership for the teams that are present here to hide. One minute breakaway and you’re gone and the pack is not going to know where you are.” said Race Director Jim Birrell (Managing Partner of Medalist Sports) about stage 2.
The third stage from Farmington to Rolla offers up a second chance for the breakaway artists with another twisty, turning windy course with leg sapping rollers producing over 6,000 feet of total climbing over 183.9 km (114.3 mi) on the day.
If it does come down to the time trial, then one favorite is of course four-time US Time Trial Champion David Zabriskie.
“If it does come down to the timetrial it favors me, but it’s the kind of race where it could be super aggressive and it could be a winning rider from a breakaway type of situation.” said Zabriskie. “Garmin has brought a wonderful group of guys here, really excited and motivated, let’s get it on.”
Let’s get it on indeed. The race starts at 2pm CDT today.