The race began in Hűckeswagen, with the signing in of the 22 teams. Most of the teams are at the UCI Continental level and generally feature younger riders being developed for the Pro Tour, so even if many of the riders were not familiar some of the names were, including Leopard Trek, Katusha and Argos-Shimano. But there were some big names too: Andre Greipel was riding with the German National Team, as was cyclo-cross ace Phillip Walsleben; Gerald Ciolek, winner of Milan-San Remo, was present with MTN-Qhubeka; there were numerous track medallists and national champions, both pro and formerly amateur. Riding in the lead car was Rudi Altig, 1962 Vuelta winner and World Championship victor in 1966.
Riders present represented no fewer than 22 different nationalities. An example of the exotic foreigner was Zachary Bell, a Canadian from the Yukon riding for the China-based team Champion System. A silver medallist at the 2012 Track Worlds, he has been with the team for a year and was coming to the race following the Tour of Wallonie. He’s also of course a recent PEZ interviewee.
The route covers 192.6 kms (in the old days it went as far as 277 kms) and features no fewer than nine climbs for points and four for sprints.
Hűckeswagen is a charming town of around 16,000 in the region called the Bergisches Land, east of the Rhine. The weather to start the day was not so charming, as by 10 am it was pouring cold rain and wind strong enough to blow over the inflatable arch at the Start. Sunshine soon followed and it was hoped the neutralized start would see pleasant weather but it was not to be. As the countdown began for the race, the sky turned black, thunder was heard and everyone was pelted first by cold rain and then by hail. Mother Nature was angry on Mother’s Day it seemed!
The roads were closed in an orderly manner throughout the region and as the sun came out again the fans did as well and lined the roads, particularly on the hills. At the third climb for points, the Dimberg in Frielingsdorf, the peloton zoomed up a tiny agricultural road, a small group in the lead.
Riding west through the Odenthal and Altenberg, noted for its beautiful cathedral, the racers then looped back east a bit before heading south to ride the cobbled climb in below Schloss Bensberg in Bergisch Gladbach, before heading south and then riding a big loop to return to the Bensberg climb a second time. The Schloss, built in the Italian Baroque style and completed in 1711, is now a very fancy hotel.
By the time the race was approaching the sprint competition at Km 160, a leading group of eighteen had established itself with three minutes in hand. The sprint passed by the famous Schmitzebud, a cafe built in 1888 on the outskirts of the city and which has served as a rendezvous point for Cologne cyclists since the 1930s. When it appeared that the cafe would close in 2008, a rescue action took place as Cologne cyclists banded together to save the operation. From the crowds gathered to watch the sprint today it is still clearly the place to be!
Picking up the sprint points were Laurens De Vreese for Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise, ahead of his teammate Pieter Jacobs, followed by Katusha rider Aliaksandr Kuchynski. But the big group began to melt away as the race approached the three circuits of 6.6 kms that would bring the riders to the finish line.
In the end, a final breakaway of three was successful and the winner was 30 year old Belgian pro Sebastian Delfosse, riding for Crelan-Euphony, ahead of Pieter Jacobs, also of Belgium, and then Austrian Georg Preidler took the last podium spot for Team Argos-Shimano.
It was a disappointing day for the home team as Andre Greipel suffered two mechanical problems and Gerald Ciolek, who comes from Cologne, was also not a factor. Roger Kluge was the best German in 7th and the drought continues as none of his countrymen have won the race since 2006.
In spite of the weird weather, police estimated more than 300,000 spectators watched the race. It passed through beautiful countryside and the organizers have thoughtfully provided GPS files for anyone who wants to ride the route. Sure, the climbing is tough but there is plenty of cool Kőlsch to enjoy when you are back into Cologne. And don’t forget to stop at the Schmitzebud! You never know who you’ll meet…
Our reporter Leslie and the devil. I’ll let you decide who is who.
Top 20 Results:
1 Sébastien Delfosse (Bel) Crelan-Euphony 4:41:17
2 Pieter Jacobs (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise
3 Georg Preidler (Aut) Team Argos-Shimano
4 Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Argos-Shimano 0:00:11
5 Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Blanco Pro Cycling Team 0:00:13
6 Stijn Steels (Bel) Crelan-Euphony
7 Roger Kluge (Ger) Team NetApp-Endura
8 Alphonse Vermote (Bel) An Post-Chainreaction
9 Aliaksandr Kuchynski (Blr) Katusha
10 Laurens De Vreese (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise
11 Jonathan Dufrasne (Bel) Wallonie-Bruxelles
12 Florian Senechal (Fra) Etixx-Ihned
13 Michael Schwarzmann (Ger) Team NetApp-Endura
14 Adrian Palomares Villaplana (Spa) Cyclingteam De Rijke-Shanks
15 Andreas Schillinger (Ger) Team NetApp-Endura 0:00:24
16 Clinton Robert Avery (NZl) Champion System Pro Cycling Team 0:05:23
17 Sam Bennett (Irl) An Post-Chainreaction
18 Nicolas Vereecken (Bel) An Post-Chainreaction
19 Lucas Liss (Ger) Rad-Net Rose Team
20 Timo Thömel (Ger) Team NSP-Ghost
When not riding alongside the Rhine, Leslie Reissner may be found contemplating quality German beer at www.tindonkey.com