49th GP de Lillers (UCI 1.2) (Pas de Calais, France)
Sunday, Sunday, Sunday! I'm sure that you, just like me, swoon when you think of Northern France. The flat landscape, the dreary cloudy and rainy, the farm roads covered in cow crap...oh who the hell am I kidding. There is nothing very interesting about Lillers. It is a northern working-class city that is only known for two things: shoes and this bike race. Lillers used to be one of the biggest shoe producers in France but after World War II, the production of shoes fell exponentially until the final factory closed in 1996. Coincidentally, the GP de Lillers-Souvenir Bruno Comini rose to professional status in 1996 after being an important amateur event for over 30 years. As an amateur event, winners included Klaus Peter-Thaler, Robert Millar, Brian Holm and Jeroen Blijlevens. As a professional event, it has been won by many different types of riders, from hardman Niko Eeckhout to lesser known names like Benoit Daeninck.
The course itself is broken up into 3 different loops. The bunch will do 10km around Lillers before taking the yellow loop, 51km, which is flat and pretty uneventful before heading back into town and riding the blue circuit. The 46 kilometer loop itself is peppered with 4 hills and will be filled with action as riders will be trying to thin the pack out. This will be where the race is made but if a group gets away, they still have two 13 kilometer finishing circuits to contend with before the race is decided on a slightly uphill drag in the center of town.
The weather seems like it will be cooperating with the riders for once so far this season. Temperatures will be in the 40's at the start and will climb up to a high of 50 degrees near the finish. Wind is predicted to be pretty low on Sunday as well.
Unlike in recent years, the GP de Lillers will not be apart of the Coupe de France classification this year and therefore will be a more international affair. Cofidis, Sojasun and Bretagne Schuller are all fielding squads but the former two will be at Paris-Nice so they don't have their best with them. Since this race can go many different ways, let's go through a few of the favorites.
Cofidis' Romain Hardy was 4th at this race last season in a reduced sprint and is very consistent in French races. Maxime Daniel and Jeremie Galland will be Sojasun's best bets. Eugenio Alafaci (Leopard) was consistent last spring and will like a reduced group. There is the Rabobank Continental buzzsaw of Nick van der Lijke and Ruben Zepuntke. I could keep going on and on but the race is really wide open so no point in sitting here listing every possible contender.
I was not expecting much in the way of coverage this week but I am surprised, and delighted, to say that it seems that there will be live coverage of this race! The french website Velo.Racing.News seems to be covering the race live and to my knowledge it seems like there will be live pictures! The weekend is already jammed packed with live TV so this will be an added bonus if it really is true, of course.