The professional road racing season continues to ratchet up as it heads into spring. Last weekend saw the running of the Criterium International in France as well as the E3 Prijs and Gent-Wevelgem in Belgium - not the biggest races on the calendar but they're usually good form guides for what's to come.
Criterium International: Evans back to yellow
Defending Tour de France champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) opened his 2012 season with a victory in the two day Criterium International event in France.
Evans kept his cool to finish in the front 40 riders in Saturday's first stage, a fast 89.5km leg starting and finishing in Porto-Vecchio, won by Frenchman Florian Vachon (Bretagne - Schuller) from Evans' teammate Danilo Wyss.
The Australian then came out all guns blazing in stage 2 that afternoon, a 6.5km individual time trial. Evans won the stage in 7'21, narrowly beating compatriot Michael Rogers (Sky Procycling). That gave him the leader's jersey going into Sunday's third stage, 179km from Porto-Vecchio to the Col de l’Ospedale.
The mountain top finish suited Evans - he finished fourth in the stage won by Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ-Big Mat) and clinched the final general classification by 8 seconds from Fedrigo and Rogers.
"It's a good indication [for the Tour de France] but we've got big races to come still. For me, July at the Tour and maybe the Olympic Games," he was reported on Cyclingnews as saying. "I go to the Ardennes week and try and be a good lieutenant for Phil' Gilbert there and then the Tour of Romandie. It's a special race for me but most of all it's really getting the final steps in place for the Tour. Then I'll just be working toward Dauphine and training camps."
Evans tops the podium ahead of Fedrigo (R) and Rogers (L)
E3 Prijs and Gent-Wevelgem: Boonen, Armitstead win
Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) showed he's back in business this year, taking two victories on Friday and Sunday in the E3 Prijs Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem, two of the bigger Flemish classics. Lizzie Armitstead also impressed by winning the first ever women's Gent-Wevelgem in a solo breakaway, reinforcing her status as a favourite for the Olympic road race this year.
Boonen's tactics were perfect in the E3 Prijs, which he has now won five times. The Belgian kept his cool while an early breakaway established itself in front for most of the race, but was reeled back in the final 30km. He then led out the bunch sprint from a long way out, just managing to hold off a fast finishing Oscar Freire to the line.
Boonen wins the E3 Prijs
In Gent-Wevelgem, which has been lengthened from 200 to 235km and elevated to the status of a weekend classic, Boonen again showed his sprinting form, beating Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Matti Breschel (Rabobank) in a group sprint.
The race was run in perfect weather but that didn't stop the peloton from fragmenting on the cobbled Kemmelberg climb, then again on the fast run to the finish - putting paid to Mark Cavendish's chances of winning the classic. Omega Pharma-QuickStep, riding for Boonen, were able to snuff out a breakaway attempt by Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan and keep things together for a Boonen victory - his third in this race.
And again in Gent-Wevelgem
For full coverage of the weekend's races, check out our sister site Cyclingnews.com.
Want to know more about the Spring Classics? Mark Robinson from Cyclingnews gives you the run down in this video: