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 is set to celebrate its greatest edition yet in 2016. Until now, Sparkassen Münsterland Giro has been a relatively anonymous autumn race but this year it will reach new heights as it will be the scene for the only big clash between Marcel Kittel, André Greipel and Mark Cavendish before the World Championships.
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 in the times when Jan Ullrich and Erik Zabel excelled 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, Münsterland Giro 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 2016, there are no longer any top level stage races in the country and the Frankfurt and Köln one-day races are in a constant survival battle. A new race was established in Berlin but it has also been cancelled for 2016.
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, with the first edition set to be held in 2018. This year a new race, Rad am Ring, was held in July.
One of the races to have broken the negative trend is the Sparkassen Münsterland Giro which was created at a time when German cycling was close to the bottom. In 2006, the first edition was held as a successor of the smaller race, Groningen-Münster, and it was immediately established as a 1.1 race on the UCI calendar. The idea was to have a race every year on October 3, the day of German unity. Paul Martens won the first edition from a four-rider breakaway and since then the race has managed to survive despite the tough economic climate. In 2015 it was even moved to 1.HC status.
Sparkassen Münsterland Giro is held in a relatively flat part of Germany and so it is no surprise that it is a race for sprinters. The two German titans Marcel Kittel and André Greipel have both won the race twice and Tom Boonen has also come out on top in a bunch sprint. However, surprises are a more frequent occurrence at this time of the year when everybody is tired and so escapees have managed to deny the sprinters on a few occasions. Jos van Emden who has barely won any other road races, has come out on top twice and Joost van Leijen and Aleksejs Saramotins have both won the race too.
The race comes at a time when the season is almost over and most have ended their season at this point of the year. For riders going for Paris-Tours, however, it presents a perfect opportunity to keep the legs going. This year the late date for the World Championships has boosted the race enormously as it now acts as a perfect warm-up race for the event in Qatar. The organizers can hardly believe that their race is the only one to have attracted the three giants, Kittel, Greipel and Mark Cavendish, for a pre-Worlds battle.
In 2015 Tom Boonen beat Roy Jans and Nikias Arndt in a bunch sprint.
The 11th edition of Sparkassen Münsterland Giro will be held over 215.8km between Gronau and Münster. After a flat opening section, the riders will get to an 82.8km circuit that they will cover twice. It includes the sall climbs of Coesfelder Berg, Daruper Berg and Hotel Weissenburg which will all be tackled twice. From there, the riders will head east to the finish in Münster, tackling the Schöppinger Berg climb along the way when 48.6km remain. After that ascent, the terrain is largely flat and the race ends with three laps of a flat 5.4km circuit in Münster. It’s not very technical and the final turn comes with 1200m to go. From there, the flat road only bends slightly to the right.
Despite the relatively flat course, Sparkassen Münsterland Grio has surprisingly often been won from a breakaway. At this time of the season, many riders are tired and it is usually easier to create a surprise. Furthermore, the field in Münster has not always been very strong and this has made things less controlled.
However, it is very unlikely that we won’t get a bunch sprint in 2016. This year the race has attracted a formidable field of sprinters led by the two titans Marcel Kittel and André Greipel. John Degenkolb also wants to sprint and this means that three of the four WorldTour teams will control things firmly. Unfortunately, Mark Cavendish is a late withdrawal but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be interest in a sprint finish.
A bit of rain has been forecasted for late in the afternoon and there will be a moderate wind from a northerly direction. To split the field, however, the conditions should probably have been worse and we find it very unlikely that we won’t get a full-on bunch sprint in Münster.
In such a finish, everybody will have their eyes on Marcel Kittel and André Greipel. The latter has been selected as German captain for the Worlds but the Etixx sprinter has clearly not given up yet. A win in this race would send a very strong signal to the German federation and there is little doubt that Kittel will be extremely motivated.
We were pretty surprised when we saw the line-up of Lotto Soudal. The team have gathered a surprisingly weak team around Greipel. As opposed to this, Etixx-QuickStep come with their entire lead-out train and Kittel will be excellently supported by Gianni Meersman, Matteo Trentin, Fabio Sabatini and Maximiliano Richeze.
That kind of support will make a big difference and makes Kittel our favourite to win the race. On paper, he is probably faster than Greipel in a big power sprint like this and as he is also supported by the best team, he will be very hard to beat. The tailwind sprint without any major technical complications is tailor-made for him and at the end of what will be a relatively easy race, he is usually extremely strong.
Kittel didn’t have much success in the Eneco Tour which he had to abandon due to stomach problems but his good time trial was a clear indication of his good form. He struggled in the very chaotic sprints but here the less crowded field will make things much easier. We expect Etixx-QuickStep to dominate the finale and deliver Kittel to an important win.
His big rival will be André Greipel. As said, his team isn’t impressive but he will still be supported by Jasper De Buyst and Marcel Sieberg. The German showed very good form in the Eneco Tour and will be very motivated to beat Kittel. Like his compatriot, he had a hard time in the hectic finales but he showed his speed in stage 4 where the harder terrain made things more straightforward. Like Kittel, he likes a power sprint like this and he is not far behind the Etixx sprinter when it comes to pure speed. The distance and the bad weather will make the race harder which should suit the Lotto sprinter.
Giant-Alpecin will be supporting John Degenkolb and he can count on a train that may be able to challenge Etixx-QuickStep. Bert De Backer, Zico Waeytens, Max Walscheid and Nikias Arndt should be able to give him a good lead-out which is important for a rider who often struggles in the fight for position. He is usually not as fast as Greipel and Kittel in this kind of sprint but since the Tour he has been sprinting pretty well. He likes this kind of power sprint and the bad weather and the distance favour the Giant-Alpecin sprinter. It won’t be easy to win but with a good lead-out he may be able to deliver a surprise.
Unfortunately, Sam Bennett had to skip the race but Bora-Argon 18 still have Phil Bauhaus. The German has proved his potential in the second half of the year, most notably at the Tour of Denmark where he won the final stage. In this race, he is supported by one of the best trains with Archbold, Dempster, Schwarzmann and Twaites and he is one of the fastest here. His form is a bit uncertain as he has abandoned many of the Italian races. However, they were always going to be too hard for him so it may not be a reflection of his condition.
Wanty have both Roy Jans and Kenny Dehaes. Dehaes has had the best season as he was flying in the spring while Jans has had lots of health issues. However, things have changed in the autumn and currently it seems that Jans is the in-form rider. He has done some good sprints recently and we expect the team to support him. It will be hard to him to beat the fastest riders but he has proved that he can occasionally challenge them. Dehaes will be the back-up plan but he hasn’t shown much form recently.
Roth are here with both Andrea Pasqualon and Dylan Page. The former has shown great form recently and he has proved that he can be competitive at this level. However, this race is probably a bit too easy for him. Page had a good start to the season but has been far from his best from recently.
ONE will be riding for Steele Von Hoff. The Australian hasn’t had many results in 2016 but at the Tour of Norway he proved that he can still win at this level. He suffers when it comes to positioning but in a field that is less stacked with sprinters, he should have a better chance.
Topsport Vlaanderen will be riding for Bert Van Lerberghe. The Belgian has been sprinting consistently well all year and has often been in the top 10. His aggressive riding in the Eneco Tour showed that the form is good but he probably doesn’t have the speed to win here.
CCC have a solid team with four sprinters, Grzegorz Stepniak, Erik Laton, Alan Banaszek and Bartlomiej Matysiak. None of them are at the highest level but Stepniak has occasionally proved that he can be competitive. With a good team at his side, he may be capable of doing a good sprint.
Finally, we will point to Johim Ariesen as the best card among the continental sprinters. The Dutchman has had a good year with a few wins and he has shown good form recently. Of course he won’t win the race but on a good day, a top 5 is within reach.
***** Marcel Kittel
**** André Greipel, John Degenkolb
*** Phil Bauhaus, Roy Jans, Kenny Dehaes
** Andrea Pasqualon, Steele Von Hoff, Bert Van Lerberghe, Grzegorz Stepniak, Johim Ariesen
* Dylan Page, Jonas Koch, Ryan Gibbons, Erik Laton, Alan Banaszek, Martijn Verschoor, Andre Perom, Meron Teshome, Pascal Ackermann, Michel Koch
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