Who's racing where - Cobbled Classics, Catalunya, Coppi e Bartali
WorldTour stage racing returns with the Volta a Catalunya (March 20-26) with world champion Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) headlining the start list.
The pair will be joined by a host of top GC and climbing names at the week-long stage race which features three tough mountain stages as well as the traditional hilly finisher in Barcelona.
Giro d'Italia champion Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) is also lining up in Catalunya, while Ineos Grenadiers pair Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas will return to racing there. Also look out for Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious), Richard Carapaz (EF Education-EasyPost), and the UAE Team Emirates duo of Adam Yates and João Almeida.
Classics season also continued with a trio of races in Belgium as the peloton heads to the Classic Brugge-De Panne (March 22), the E3 Saxo Classic (March 24), and Gent-Wevelgem (March 26).
The sprinters will be out in force at the 211km flat race at De Panne, with Fabio Jakobsen (Soudal-QuickStep) set to do battle with Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Dstny), Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe), Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan), Dylan Groenewegen (Jayco-AlUla), and more.
E3, meanwhile, is all about the Classics men with a cobble-and hill-filled course which packs the likes of the Taaienberg, Eikenberg, Paterberg, and Oude Kwaremont into 205km of action on Friday.
The start list will be full of big names as Milan-San Remo winner Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) line up in Harelbeke. Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal-QuickStep), Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty), Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious), and Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) are also racing.
Sunday's Gent-Wevelgem is something of a middle ground between the two races, more sprinter-friendly than E3 but far from pan-flat with several ascents of the famous Kemmelberg among numerous climbs in the final half of the 261km race.
Reigning champion Girmay is back to defend his title while the start list is a mix of those attending De Panne and E3. Classics men such as Van Aert, Mohorič, Greg Van Avermaet (AG2R Citroën), and Soudal-QuickStep pairing Kasper Asgreen and Yves Lampaert will be joined at the race by Pedersen, Merlier, Cavendish, Bennett, Ewan and his Lotto-Dstny teammate Arnaud De Lie.
The Women's WorldTour Classics season is also ongoing with appointments at the Classic Brugge-De Panne (March 22) and Gent-Wevelgem (March 26).
At the former fast women like Lorena Wiebes (SD Worx), Marta Bastianelli (UAE Team ADQ), Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo), Pfeiffer Georgi (Team DSM), and Floortje Mackaij (Movistar) are among the headline acts.
Gent-Wevelgem will see Balsamo joined on the start line by teammate Elisa Longo Borghini, SD Worx pairing Wiebes and Lotte Kopecky, as well as the likes of Zoe Bäckstedt (EF Education-Tibco-SVB), Charlotte Kool (Team DSM), Marta Cavalli (FDJ-Suez), and Grace Brown (Jayco-AlUla).
Away from the top level of WorldTour and Women's WorldTour racing, there are some smaller races in Italy this week. The 2.1-rated Settimana Coppi e Bartali runs from March 21-25 and sees eight WorldTour teams in action.
Domenico Pozzovivo makes his Israel-Premier Tech debut while elsewhere look out for Leo Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers), James Knox and Remi Cavagna (Soudal-QuickStep), and Johannes Staune-Mittet and Thomas Gloag (Jumbo-Visma).
Sunday brings the one-day ProSeries race, the GP Industria & Artigianato. Several WorldTour teams will be present at the hilly 200km race in Larciano, though the start list has not yet been finalised. With Adam Yates, Matej Mohorič, Diego Ulissi, and Max Schachmann among the recent winner, though, expect some major names to show up.
Before jumping straight in, here's a round-up of the weekend's biggest results.
A duo of major one-day races in Italy – Milan-San Remo and the Trofeo Alfredo Binda – dominated the weekend just gone.
On Saturday it was Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) who came out on top at the end of the first Monument of 2023, the Dutchman adding La Primavera to his pair of Tour of Flanders titles. He went solo over the final climb of the Poggio and finished 15 seconds up on Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) and Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) at the end of 294km of racing.
Sunday brought Trek-Segafredo's young talent Shirin van Anrooij her first pro victory. The 21-year-old also won solo, going long at 24km to go on the hilly course in Cittiglio to triumph as her teammate Elisa Balsamo rounded out a one-two ahead of Vittoria Guazzini (FDJ-Suez) 23 seconds later.
Axel Zingle (Cofidis) won the Classic Loire Atlantique on Saturday, giving his Cofidis team their second title in two years at the 183km, 1.1 race. The fourth win of the Frenchman's career came from a large group sprint ahead of Groupama-FDJ youngster Laurence Pithie.
The Australian's second place was the best result of his first three months in the pro ranks, but he'd go one better on Sunday to win Cholet-Pays de la Loire. He beat Anthony Perez (Cofidis) to the finish at end of a hilly 205km, holding off the group behind with an attack in the closing kilometre.
Sunday also saw the finale of the inaugural Tour de Normandie Féminin. Cédrine Kerbaol (Ceratizit-WNT) had taken victory on Saturday's hilly second stage and with it the race lead. The Frenchwoman successfully defended that lead on the final third stage to take overall victory by one second from Gladys Verhulst (FDJ-Suez) as Shari Bossuyt (Canyon-Sram) sprinter to the stage win.
Finally, the third edition of the hilly Per Sempre Alfredo in Tuscany saw Felix Engelhardt take the first win of his pro career for Jayco-AlUla. The German beat out Mark Stewart (Bolton Equities Black Spoke) in a sprint finish from a small group.
Volta a Catalunya
A trio of mountain stages headline the week at the Volta a Catalunya. Stage 2 will see the peloton take on the summit finish at Vallter (11km at 7.7%), while the multi-mountain stage 3 brings a finale at La Molina (12km at 4.5%). Stage 5 concludes at Lo Port, a brutal 8.4km, 9% climb that should be the GC decider.
Look out for Giro d'Italia rivals Remco Evenepoel, Primož Roglič, Geraint Thomas, and João Almeida to do battle at the race, while Egan Bernal also races for the first time since January.
Settimana Coppi e Bartal
The five-day race will see the peloton tackle a series of hilly stages suited to puncheurs and hardy sprinters before concluding with an 18.6km time trial in Carpi. It's usually one for the up-and-coming riders to do their thing, with Jonas Vingegaard and Lucas Hamilton among the recent winners.
With that in mind, keep an eye on neo-pros such as Thomas Gloag, Leo Hayter, Johannes Staune-Mittet, and Felix Engelhardt during this one.
Classic Brugge-De Panne
The sprint-friendly course at the Classic Brugge-De Panne should see a big group finish in the coastal town by the North Sea. However, the wind can also have an effect and the race isn't always a nailed-on sprint finish – just look at Yves Lampert's win three years ago.
Still, the likes of Fabio Jakobsen, Jasper Philipsen, Sam Bennett, and Caleb Ewan are the men to watch here.
Classic Brugge-De Panne Women
The women's race at the Classic Brugge-De Panne is also a flat affair and suited to the sprinters, even if solo attacks and small groups have been the order of the day in recent editions. Reigning champion Elisa Balsamo and 2020 winner Lorena Wiebes are the stand-out favourites.
E3 Saxo Classic
The toughest Classic of the week comes on 205km of roads in and around Harelbeke. It's known as the mini Tour of Flanders and features a large cluster of famous cobbled hills, including Flanders' one-two finishing punch of the Paterberg and Oude Kwaremont.
With defending champion Wout van Aert lining up against Mathieu van der Poel, Julian Alaphilippe, and Tadej Pogačar, among others, this is the first don't-miss appointment of the 2023 cobbled Classics season.
Sunday's Gent-Wevelgem welcomes a mixture of sprinters and Classics men for a race which can go either way, though the hardier sprinters usually prevail on this 261km course which features multiple ascents of the Kemmelberg.
A versatile sprinter winning from a small group has been the order of the day for the past few years – Mads Pedersen, Wout van Aert, Biniam Girmay. The trio are back this weekend and it wouldn't be a shock to see any of them win again.
The women's Gent-Wevelgem usually sees larger groups arrive at the line together for a bunch sprint, even with two Kemmelberg ascents lining the route.
Elisa Balsamo is the reigning champion and the Italian will face off against Lorena Wiebes, Marta Bastianelli, Charlotte Kool, and more in Wevelgem.
GP Industria & Artigianato
The 200km race around Larciano is the smallest major race of the week, but it's still worth paying attention to. The 8.6km, 3.5% climb to San Baronto features on four laps of the finishing circuit and always provides action, with small groups and solo winners usually prevailing at the finish.
The week at a glance
Data Powered by FirstCycling
How to watch
We have dedicated how to watch pages for the major races this week, with ExpressVPN letting you get in on the action, whether you're at home or on holiday. Check our out link below for all your streaming needs.