But it could be argued that last years Championship of Zurich, with its star-studded break and a tough climbing course, was the best of the 10-race World Cup series.
Last year under the impetus of Jan Ulrich, an eight-man break, formed with 60km to go, featured no less than three former world champions: Lance Armstrong, Oscar Freire and Oscar Camenzind, not to mention two riders who consistently sit near the top of the UCI rankings: Francisco Casagrande and David Rebellin. Add to the above mix, top climber Laurent Dufaux, the eventual race winner, plus youngster Andrei Kivilev who would flirt with the Tours yellow jersey in 2001.
It was an eye-popping, rarely-seen conflux of top riders on their best form, pitted against each other for a victory that would be all the more prestigious for its sheer name value.
Dufaux (Saeco) out-sprinted Ulrich (Telekom) and Casagrande (Fassa Bortolo) on the sweltering hot streets of Zurich, making him the first Swiss winner of the race in 19 years. It was also Dufauxs first big win since his indictment and suspension for his participation in the 1998 Festina Affair.
One of the most articulate riders in the peloton, Dufaux needed only a few words to describe his happiness: Its a wonderful day. Ive waited a long time for this.
Dufaux will be back to defend his title, and perhaps for his swan song as a pro. With only a few victories over the past three years, the 32-year old Dufaux is considering retirement to join IMG sports management agency. The IMG job could lead to a position with the International Cycling Union (UCI), Swiss newspapers have reported.
Known as the Grand Prix Suisse until three years ago when ownership changed, this years Championship of Zurich, August 26, will give inspired World Cup leader Erik Dekker (Rabobank) another chance to rack up points.
With his third place last week in the HEW Cyclassics, Dekker increased his World Cup lead to 69 points over last years overall winner, Erik Zabel.
Zabel has already said that he is ending his season early and bowing out of contention in the series due to fatigue, effectively leaving two men to give Dekker a run for the money in the final three races: Current World Champion Romans Vainsteins and Rebellin, ranked second in the UCI standings. It should be a good match up.
The 248km race has two significant climbs on each 41.5km lap, the Forch at 11km and the Pfannenstiel at 25km.
The 6km Pfannenstiel, where Ulrich attacked and made the final selection last year, is a narrow, winding climb with an average gradient of 8% and sections as steep as 15%. From the top, there is a steep descent into Zurich and a flat run-in on wide, city streets.
Zurich will be one of the final races of the season for Armstrong, currently competing in the five-day Vuelta a Burgos stage race in Spain. Historically (at least in his last three, post-cancer years), Armstrong has gone hard in the few World Cups he enters, so he might be a threat for the win.
Ulrich is aiming for the World Championships in October, so he is far from finished; the German seems to gain strength at the end of the season so he too will be a marked man.
If this years Championship of Zurich, with its tough course and growing reputation, attracts the stars and it should, since many are hitting their late season form we might be in for a truly classic late season World Cup race.
World Cup standings
1. Erik Dekker (Neth) 269 pts
2. Erik Zabel (Ger) 200
3. Romans Vainsteins (Lat) 186
4. Davide Rebellin (Ita) 144
5. Gianluca Bortolami (Ita) 131
6. Oscar Camenzind (Sui) 126
7. Johan Museeuw (Bel) 116
8. Francesco Casagrande (Ita) 113
9. Servais Knaven (Neth) 101
10. Serge Baguet (Bel) 97
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