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The 81st edition of the Critérium International will also be the 3rd to take place in Corsica, which will additionally welcome the Grand Start and three stages of the Tour de France in 2013.
To get a taste of the relief on the Isle of Beauty, the leading riders of the world elite will be coming to Porto-Vecchio on 24th and 25th March. According to the traditional concept of the event, three stages that are both varied and complementary are served up to the riders for the first weekend of spring. However, this year, a significant change has been made to the sequence of the triple stage event. After the flat stage and the time-trial that will take place on Saturday, the medium altitude mountain stage has been scheduled for the climax of the race on Sunday afternoon. The final climb to the Col de l’Ospedale pass, which has always designated the winner since the arrival of the Critérium in Corsica, promises a defining struggle between the pretenders for the title. After this ascent, there will be no time to catch up lost ground.
The 16 selected teams
BMC Racing Team (BMC)
Team Type 1 - Sanofi (TT1)
AG2R La Mondiale (ALM)
FDJ - BigMat (FDJ)
Cofidis, Le crédit en ligne (COF)
Team Europcar (EUC)
Auber 93 (BIG)
La Pomme Marseille (LPM)
Sky Procycling (SKY)
Project 1T4I (PRO)
THE RACE SCHEDULE
Saturday 24th March
Stage 1: Porto-Vecchio > Porto-Vecchio, 89.5 km
Stage 2: Porto-Vecchio > Porto Vecchio, 6.5 km (i.t.t.)
Sunday 25th March
Stage 3: Porto-Vecchio > Col de l’Ospedale, 179 km
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On the final time-trial of the event, Frank Schleck managed to hang on to his overall lead to catpure the 80th edition of the Criterium International. The afternoon’s stage went to Germany’s Andreas Kloden, beating specialist Bradley Wiggins and Jakob Fuglsang on the 7.8km course.
One final test remained for yellow jersey holder and winner at the Col de l’Ospedale yesterday, Frank Schleck (LEO): hang on to his slim 16’’ lead over Kyrienka and 20’’ over Taaramae on the 7.8km final time-trial around the city of Porto Vecchio.
Jens Voigt© DPPI
The Critérium International whiz Jens Voigt is back this year in what is likely to be his last start in the race. Approaching the age of 40 and with a sixth child born last January, retirement time is edging closer for him. His goal in Corsica is no less than the top step of the podium, without neglecting his domestique duties for the Schleck brothers, who are racing together for the first time this season.
Voigt still loves cycling. Although the most senior rider in today’s Pro Teams started off in cycling with the modest Australian-Czech team ZVVZ-Giant in 1997, he would like to go out with a bang. “I would be over the moon to cycle down the Champs-Elysées with one of the Schleck brothers in yellow on my wheel”, he says. He already had a sniff of the sweet taste of victory when he escorted his CSC teammate Carlos Sastre in 2008.
Jens Voigt is worthy of praise for being just as eager to feature in the remaining races of the calendar, both going on quests for personal glory and giving it his all as a domestique. “When I am at the starting line, I am always thinking of doing something positive in the race, winning a stage or helping my leaders”, he insists.
Although he has 60 victories in his palmarès, he is best-known for his five overall wins (1999, 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2009) and five stages in the Critérium International. Aggressive, a punchy climber despite not being a pure mountain goat, and capable of excelling against the clock on relatively short distances: Voigt is tailor-cut to the three-stage race known as cycling’s “Three Day Event”. After three straight wins, last year he missed out on his title defence because his team was unable to fit the race into its jam-packed schedule at that time of the year. “I do not need a team, let me race alone, all I need is a mechanic and a team car!” he asked his employer ironically.
“I love this race”, he admits today. “But its structure is completely different from that of the Critérium International I was used to winning in the cold, and sometimes wet, conditions of the Ardennes in northern France. Now it takes place under the Corsican sun, in an awesome setting, and the most important stage is the first one (with a summit finish atop the Col de l’Ospedale). Before, the battle for the general classification played out on the two Sunday stages. I am still going to try to win, but everything will come down to what happens on Saturday. I would be lying if I said my goal is to finish 10th. I prefer to take some pressure off the lads (the Schleck brothers, ed.) before the race. OK, I may end up 10th, but I am racing with my sights set on the big prize”.
If he feels nostalgic about Charleville-Mézières, the scene of four of his victories after he triumphed in the Vaucluse in 1999, Voigt should be reminded that Porto-Vecchio and South Corsica are not the southernmost place the race has visited. This was in 1960 in Oran, which was part of French Algeria at a time when the race was known as the “Critérium national de la route” (until it was opened to foreign teams in 1978). Emile Idée (1940, 1942, 1943, 1946 and 1949) and Raymond Poulidor (1964, 1966, 1968, 1971 and 1972) became five-time winners before Jens Voigt. He is challenging for the absolute record!
Emile Idée© Presse Sports
While the Critérium took on the adjective “International” in 1979, it was in 1932 that Léon Le Calvez took the inaugural win at the end of what was then a one-stage race.
Organisers invited the two most successful riders in this race to kick-off its 80th edition. Five-time winners Emile Idée and Raymond Poulidor are coming to Porto-Vecchio. The memories of one of his favourite races are still very clear in the mind of 90-year-old Idée: “We only raced for one day back then, and it usually got hectic from the very beginning. Then the peloton would often break up and only the strongest riders would be up front in the finale. I always was one of them”.
His consistent top placings on the roads of the Critérium National (with two podiums in addition to his five wins) earned him the nickname “King of Chevreuse”. Emile could have reigned even more supreme over his rivals if he had not been so generous in the 1948 edition: “I had already won four times, so that year I teamed up with my brother-in-law Camille Danguillaume to help him finish first. We were afraid of losing the sprint, so we worked together and he took the win.” In Corsica, Emile Idée will meet Jens Voigt, another five-time winner who sees mountains in very much the same way as him: “I do like climbs,” says the veteran, “but those which are too long are not my cup of tea. I was able to hang tough on climbs, but then I had a hard time recovering, which is why I never excelled in stage races.”
The stage of slopes that finishes with the Col de l’Ospedale pass will take on a new dimension this year. The intermediate climbs could also act as a springboard for the challengers for victory.
Cycling races are past masters in adapting to the lands which play host to them. In Corsica, the Critérium International has taken on a sharper accent, in keeping with the pointy peaks of the island. This attractive opportunity has pushed the organisers into proposing an even more demanding route than last year on the opening chapter of the three-stage event, between Porto-Vecchio and the Col de l’Ospedale pass. Whilst a route with a number of gradients was expected, the changes made for 2011 mean that the riders will be tackling a genuine mountain stage, holding in store a session on the saddle that will last almost six hours: “Our first intention was to extend this stage”, explains Laurent Bezault, the event’s sporting manager. “In comparison to last year, we’ve added almost 25 kilometres. The race will be attritional right from the start on Saturday’. More importantly, the rapid succession of difficulties, with seven climbs on the menu, was totally revised, with an accent that gives voice to the bravest. “The island’s relief dictated these changes, because by heading further northwards, we came across tougher routes. The ascensions of the Col de Celaccia and Col de Saint-Eustache passes both account for around 10 kilometres of climbing. It’s therefore an invitation to attack, so the most offensive riders won’t have to wait until the Col de l’Ospedale pass to get stuck in”. With a route that is conducive to long breakaways, the riders will surely be mapping out their strategies already.
16 teams have been chosen to take part in the 80th edition of the Critérium International, due to be held in Porto-Vecchio (South Corsica) for the second time.
A 128-rider strong peloton will battle it out over three stages on March 26 and 27. Pierrick Fédrigo prevailed on the climb up the Col de l’Ospedale last year and will be defending his title with his new team, FDJ, while the master of the race, five-time winner Jens Voigt, is returning with his sights firmly set on the top prize after missing out on Corsica in 2010. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether the German will have to ride in support of his two leaders Fränk and Andy Schleck, who are expected to feature in this three-stage race.
Main contenders (as of February 14)
AG2R La Mondiale: Péraud, Perget (FRA); Euskaltel-Euskadi: S. Sánchez (SPA), Sicard (FRA); Leopard-Trek: F. and A. Schleck (LUX), Voigt (GER); Movistar Team: Rojas (SPA); Pro Team Astana: Vinokourov (KAZ), Di Grégorio (FRA); Sky Procycling: Gerrans, Rogers (AUS), Wiggins (GBR); Team Garmin-Cervélo: Hesjedal (CAN), Le Mével (FRA), D. Martin (IRE); Team RadioShack: Klöden (GER), Machado (POR); Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team: Hoogerland (NET); Bretagne-Schuller: Lebon, Dion (FRA); Cofidis, le Crédit en Ligne: Moncoutié (FRA), Taaramäe (EST); FDJ: Fédrigo, Roy (FRA); Saur-Sojasun: Coppel, Mangel (FRA); Team Europcar: Rolland, Voeckler (FRA); Skil-Shimano: Sprick (FRA); BigMat-Auber 93: Méderel (FRA)
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For the first time since the disappearance of the Tour of Corsica in the 1980’s, cycling’s elite came back to Corsica in 2010 to compete on the Critérium International.
Since the race formula won over not only the riders but also the organisers, the representatives of the local authorities involved and the Corsican public, an agreement has been signed for the next three editions of this three-stage road race. Christian Prudhomme travelled to Porto-Vecchio for a meeting with the town’s Mayor, Georges Mela, to officialise the installation of the Critérium International in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
The dates for your diaries are the 26th and 27th March 2011 for a two-day competition over three stages that will cover the demanding roads of Southern Corsica, following the format which has ensured the event’s success since 1932: one mountain stage, one flatter stage and one short-distance time-trial.
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Pierrick Fedrigo (Bbox) resisted the challenge of time trial specialists to retain the yellow jersey earned bravely in the Col de l’Ospedale in Saturday’s fist act and win the Criterium International.
The Frenchman, who had grabbed two more seconds by finishing third in the short Sunday morning second stage, was 13th fastest in the final 7.7-kms time trial won by Briton David Millar, but it was more than enough to stay in the overall lead.In the final standings, the former French champion beat Australia’s Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia) by 14 seconds while Portuguese Tiago Machado (RadioShack) was third, one second behind and was crowned the best under-25 rider in the race. Pre-race favourtie Alberto Contador partly avenged his huge disappointment in the first stage by finishing second against the clock, two seconds behind Millar, but two seconds ahead of Rogers.