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Will Alexander Kristoff defend his title in one of the biggest German races?

Photo: Sirotti




01.05.2016 @ 13:42 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

In no other country has cycling has such a hard time as it has had in Germany and most of the races in the country have disappeared. However, a few one-day races have survived and one of them still enjoys an important position as a key event on the calendar. With its long history, Rund um den Finanzplatz is a prestigious spring event and its hilly course always creates an exciting and aggressive race that can suit several different kinds of riders.


The doping issue has marred cycling everywhere but in most countries, the sport has been able to maintain its excitement and a solid fan base. However, things have been completely different in Germany where the discussion about doping has almost erased a sport that was once very popular when Jan Ullrich and Erik Zabel impressed at the Tour de France. The public and the media have largely turned their back to the sport and while the country once had three WorldTour teams, it suddenly had none just a few years ago.


Germany once had a very rich cycling calendar with numerous week-long stage races and a couple of high-level one-day races. Bayern Rundfahrt, Hessen Rundfahrt, Sachsen Tour, Niedersachsen Rundfahrt and Rheinland-Pfalz Rundfahrt were just some of the races that joined up with the national Deutschland Tour and one-day races like HEW Cyclassics (now Vattenfall Cyclassics), Rund um den Henninger Turm (now Rund um den Finanzplatz), Rund um Köln and Rund um die Braunkohle to form a rich and diverse cycling scene.


No other country has been more affected by the massive doping suspicion than Germany which is now left with very few events to showcase its many fine cycling talents. As the race in Bayern has been cancelled in 2015, there are no longer any top level stage races in the country while the Frankfurt and Köln one-day races are in a constant survival battle. A new race has been established in Berlin but it is a rare occurrence in a country which has had news of cancelled races almost every year.


The emergence of riders like Tony Martin, André Greipel, Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb has slowly improved things. Giant-Alpecin is now a German WorldTour team, Bora-Argon 18 and Stölting are solid pro continental teams and there is again live coverage of the Tour de France on national television. The country has even attracted the Grand Depart for the 2017 edition and to make up for the loss of Bayern Rundfahrt, there are now plans to revive the Deutschland Tour together with ASO.


One of the only races to have survived is Rund um den Finanzplatz and after years of suffering, the event now seems to be in a much better place. Always held on May 1, it is a big event in the Frankfurt area and always attracts a huge amount of spectators for a big day of cycling where the elite race is just the pinnacle event on a big day of cycling that includes several cyclosportive events and kids races that are held on parts of the course that are used by the professionals.


Known as the Rund um den Henninger Turm, the race began in 1962 with Henninger as main sponsor to publicise the Henninger Tower opened in 1961. The event received classic status in 1967 when Paris–Brussels was forced off the calendar due to traffic problems. It was even part of the UCI Road World Cup for one year, 1995, but later the new HEW Cyclassic in Hamburg got the German leg of the series. The event is also failed to join the UCI ProTour and WorldTour.


The race faced a survival battle in 2007 when Henning decided to stop their backing of the race after 2008. The organizers managed to save it under the name of Eschborn-Frankfurt City Loop, named for new sponsors, Frankfurt and the neighboring town of Eschborn that was used for the start of the race. The change meant that the race no longer passes the Henninger Tower.


The race is now known as Rund um den Finanzplatz as it finishes in the business district of Frankfurt which is known as the financial capital of Germany. It is no longer as prestigious as it once was but it remains a highlight in the spring calendar and always manages to attract several international stars that mix it up with some of the best Germans riders. As a 1.HC race, it still has a high status in the UCI system.


The race is held in the Taunus mountains which means that it is a very hilly affair. The landmark climb of Mammolshainer is tackled numerous times but a long, flat run back to the finish in Frankfurt means that the race can also suit strong sprinters. It usually comes down to an exciting pursuit between a strong group of in-form classics specialists who have arrived at the race on the back of the Ardennes classics, and a reduced field.


In 2015, the race was cancelled due to terrorist threats on a very dramatic day for German cycling. Hopefully, there will be no such issues in 2016. When the race was last held in 2014, Alexander Kristoff beat John Degenkolb in a reduced bunch sprint. In 2013 and 2012, the attackers had the upper hand, with Simon Spilak and Moreno Moser claiming the wins, while Degenkolb was the latest German winner in 2011. The most successful rider in the history of the event is Erik Zabel who has won thrice, and that says a lot about which riders can do well in one of the biggest German one-day races.


The course

Rund um den Finanzplatz is always held in the hilly terrain on the northwestern outskirts of the big city of Frankfurt where the riders tackle a number of climbs before they descend back to the finish in the city centre. The key climb is the short, very steep Mammoshain that is tackled numerous times. The 2016 course if pretty traditional and will include four passages of the famous ascent.


The 206.8km race will get underway from Frankfurt from where it will slowly climb into the Taunus Mountains as the riders travel in a northwesterly direction. The first categorized climb is the Feldberg which comes at the 58.2km mark and is followed by the Niederreifenberg just 5.3km later. The third climb comes after 77.3km of racing and then it is time for the Bergstrasse climb at the 85.2km mark.


After the tough start, the terrain gets a bit easier as the riders travel to the Mammolshain for the first time. The first passage comes at the 113.7km mark. The riders will then do one lap of the key 15km circuit which means that they will go up the climb for a second time with 78.1km to go. From there, they will tackle one lap of a bigger 27.1km circuit that will see them head up the steep ascent for the third time when just 50.2km remain. Then it’s another lap of the short circuit that leads to the final passage of the climb with 35.4km to go.


After the climb, the riders will follow descending and flat roads back to Frankfurt, passing through the city of Eschborn along the way. They will cross the finish line for the first time after 197.8km of racing and then the final part of the race consists of three laps of a flat 3.0km circuit in the city centre.


Compared to recent editions of the race, the course is largely unchanged.




The weather

Europe has been marred by bad weather and it seems that it will be no different on Sunday. After a cloudy morning, rain will arrive later in the day as a total of 9mm are forecasted. However, the riders may be lucky to reach the finish before the wet conditions set in. The temperature at the finish will be 12 degrees and there will barely be any wind, with just a light breeze blowing from a westerly direction. This means that the riders will mainly have a headwind in the first part and a tailwind in the run-in back to Frankfurt.


The favourites

A few years ago, Rund um den Finanzplatz was a great race for attackers and Ardennes specialists who arrived at the German race in peak condition. However, in recent years, it seems that the race has been more geared towards the strong sprinters and even though the organizers have tried to make the race harder by adding more and more passages of the Mammolshainer Berg, it seems that the balance has tipped.


Of course one can argue that the attackers stayed away in both 2013 and 2012 and it is definitely possible to avoid a reduced bunch sprint in Frankfurt. However, the escapees stayed away with a very small margin in both races and both races were characterized by the fact that they had some great attackers in the line-up. This year there are fewer classics riders in the field and instead the race is dominated by two big teams that will both go all out for a bunch sprint.


Katusha arrive in Frankfurt with Alexander Kristoff who is the defending champion and Etixx-QuickStep go into the race with both Matteo Trentin and Gianni Meersman. Those two teams are clearly the strongest and as both arrive with lots of firepower to control things, it looks like we will get a reduced bunch sprint. As the field also lacks the standout attacker that can make the difference on the Mammolshainer, we expect Katusha and Etixx-QuickStep to make sure that none of the many attacks pay off and that we will get a reduced bunch sprint in Frankfurt.


Alexander Kristoff is the defending champion. The Norwegian is the master of the sprints after hard races and he rarely loses a reduced bunch kick. This race is not as hard and long as the biggest classics but it is still a great one for Kristoff. On paper, he is already the fastest rider here – with Sam Bennett his closest rival – and after four passages of Mammolshainer, he will be even harder to beat.


Etixx-QuickStep are here with a great train but the Katusha team is probably even better. Jacopo Guarnieri is maybe the best lead-out rider in the world and Alexander Porsev, Viacheslav Kuznetov and Alexei Tsatevich will also be on hand. However, there is no guarantee that Guarnieri will survive the Mammolshainer and he will be the key for Kristoff. If he is not there, we doubt that they will be able to match Etixx-QuickStep and then it will be harder for the Norwegian to win. If Guarnieri makes it, Kristoff is likely to get the perfect lead-out and then he will be almost impossible to beat. The Norwegian is our favourite.


Etixx-QuickStep were hoping to win the race with Fernando Gaviria but the Colombian is out with a broken hand. However, they can still go for the sprint with both Matteo Trentin and Gianni Meersman. A few years ago, Meersman was one of the best in the world for these sprints but in 2015 and 2016 Trentin has probably been sprinting better than the Belgian. It is hard to know who will be the protected rider though as Trentin has just come back from a racing break while Meersman finally showed improving form in the Ardennes.


However, we will put our money on Trentin as the team leader. The Italian has proved that he can beat some of the fastest guys in the world by winning reduced bunch sprints at the Tour de France and the Tour de Suisse and this year he has even been riding better than ever before. He was extremely strong in the classics and this is one of the few races where he can get his own chance. If Maximilano Richeze survives the climbs, he will be supported by one of the best lead-out men in the world and with Meersman and Tony Martin also at his side, he could get the lead-out that will allow him to beat Kristoff.


The only rider that can realistically beat the two big teams in a sprint is Sam Bennett. The Irishman is making his debut in a race that is extremely important for Bora-Argon 18 and he should be suited to this kind of tough course. He has been climbing really well this year and is back in form after he fell ill during Tirreno-Adriatico. However, he hasn’t raced since Paris-Roubaix and he seems to have a very fragile health as he is often set back by illness. Hence, there is some uncertainty regarding his condition but if he is at 100%, this is the kind of race that he can win. In the past, he has beaten almost all the fastest riders in the world and even though he hasn’t really sprinted very well this year, he has the speed to challenge the favourites.


If Trentin doesn’t get the nod, Gianni Meersman will be the man for Etixx-QuickStep. A few years ago, he seemed to be the great star for reduced bunch sprints but for some reason he has been riding very poorly since the start of the 2015 season. He finally showed improving form in the Ardennes and as Trentin is coming back from a break, this could be a chance for Meersman. He is definitely not as fast as Kristoff but as he has one of the best trains in the world, he definitely has a chance.


Roompot are here with Raymond Kreder who has been better than ever in 2016. He survived some very tough climbs in the Ruta del Sol and so he should be able to handle the climbs here too. However, he hasn’t done much racing recently and there is no guarantee that he will be able to survive. It won’t be easy to beat the fastest riders here but as he has sprinted well this year, he is a contender.


Giant-Alpecin won’t be riding for John Degenkolb who is easing his way back into racing and instead Ramon Sinkeldam will be their man for the sprint. There is a big chance that the race will be too tough for the Dutchman but it’s definitely not impossible for him to make it to the finish with the best. Even though he hasn’t been sprinting very well recently, he has beaten some fast guys in the past and he should be one of the fastest in this race.


Among the attackers, Maurits Lammertink stands out as the favourite. The Dutchman was in the form of his life in Brabantse Pijl and Amstel Gold Race where he was better than several of the biggest stars on the climbs. He seemed to be getting a bit tired towards the end of the classics campaign but if he has recovered, this is a race that suits him very well as he is strong on short, steep climbs and can win a sprint from a group of attackers in Frankfurt.


Damiano Cunego is using this race as his final test for the Giro d’Italia. He showed growing condition by taking third in the hard second stage in Trentino and even though he faded in the final two stages, it is evident that he is improving after his recent injury. He should be even better here and if he can make the difference on the climbs, he has the speed to win a breakaway sprint in the city.


Maciej Paterski has been set back by health issues but is slowly finding his best form. He was already much better than expected in Brabantse Pijl and he worked well on his condition with a great performance in the Tour of Croatia queen stage. He will be ready to go on the attack and use his fast sprint in Frankfurt.


Simon Geschke will be ready to attack in his home race. Due to health issues, he failed to get into his best form for the Ardennes but he should be getting better and better. As he is strong in this terrain and fast in a sprint, this is a race that suits him well.


With Giant-Alpecin not focusing fully on a sprint, Sam Oomen could be free to attack. The young Dutchman is a huge talent and he rode to third in Criterium International just a few weeks ago. He had an outstanding classics campaign where he worked for Warren Barguil very late in the race and his potential is huge. His main disadvantage is that he is not very fast in a sprint.


Fabian Wegmann and Paul Voss are in-form attackers. Wegmann had lots of bad luck in Brabantse Pijl and Fleche Wallonne and so failed to show that the condition is good. The same was the case for Paul Voss in Liege but the German has been riding strongly all year. Both are fast in a sprint from a breakaway.


This is a race that suits Grega Bole very well but he crashed hard in Amstel Gold Race and it remains to be seen what kind of condition he has. He will be ready to sprint but he is not fast enough to beat the best. Yauheni Hutarovich is faster but this race is likely to be too hard for him.


Rasmus Guldhammer deserves a mention. The Dane was riding very well in 2015 but has not been at his best in 2016. However, he seems to be getting better and this is a race that suits him well as he can sprint from a breakaway.


Finally, Tony Martin should be mentioned. The German has been on the attack in this race in the past and he would love to show himself in his home race. Etixx-QuickStep will probably be riding for a bunch sprint but Martin has a special status in the team. If he can get clear in the finale, everybody knows that he will be hard to bring back.


For other attackers, keep an eye on Floris De Tier, Zico Waeytens, Michel Kreder, Florian Vachon, Julien El Fares, Emanuel Buchmann and Dominik Nerz.


Filippo Pozzato, Marcel Meisen, Armindo Fonseca, Jerome Baugnies, Leonardo Duque and Benjamin Giraud could be outsiders for a sprint.


UPDATE: Trentin won't start


***** Alexander Kristoff,

**** Matteo Trentin, Sam Bennett

*** Gianni Meersman, Raymond Kreder, Ramon Sinkeldam, Maurits Lammertink, Maciej Paterski, Simon Geschke

** Sam Oomen, Fabian Wegmann, Paul Voss, Grega Bole, Yauheni Hutarovich, Rasmus Guldhammer, Tony Martin

* Filippo Pozzatto, Marcel Meisen, Floris De Tier, Zico Waeytens, Michel Kreder, Florian Vachon, Julien El Fares, Armindo Fonseca, Emanuel Buchmann Dominik Nerz, Leonardo Duque, Benjamin Giraud



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