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My sporting month: March 2012

The football season will be gearing up for its home stretch in March, as the Premier League season enters its final third and we have the quarter-finals of both the FA Cup and the Champions League to look forward to. Similarly the Six Nations reaches its climax this month with a potential Grand Slam showdown to look forward to. And the England cricket team embark on the final leg of their winter tours.

But for many other sports their year is only just beginning, or at least getting into their stride. As winter turns to spring, here are five of the key sporting events I’ll be watching this month.

1. Milan-San Remo (17th)

After a gentle introduction in the first two months of the year, the cycling season hits its stride in March with a series of major stage races – most notably Paris-Nice (which begins this weekend) and Tirreno-Adriatico – and the spring one-day Classics. First and foremost of these is the first of the five ‘monuments’ of European cycling: Milan-San Remo.

This is the longest one-day race on the professional calendar, totalling a massive 298km and usually taking close to seven hours to complete. The race is usually won by a sprinter, which means all British eyes will be on world champion Mark Cavendish. The winner here in 2009, he will be looking to claim a second victory at the expense of former HTC-Highroad teammate Matt Goss, who won last year’s race, and a field packed with most of the top sprinters in the sport.

2. Wales vs France, Six Nations (17th)

The final weekend of the 2012 Six Nations could see a winner-takes-all showdown between the last two unbeaten teams in the competition. Wales have already secured their 20th Triple Crown with their thrilling but controversial 19-12 victory over England at Twickenham last weekend. A win at home to Italy the weekend before this game will set up the possibility of a Grand Slam if they can beat Les Bleus.

Meanwhile France must complete their postponed game versus Ireland and then aim to beat England, who will have benefitted from an additional week’s rest, if they are to travel to the Millennium Stadium with their Grand Slam hopes intact. Regardless of unbeaten records, this is the likely Six Nations title decider, meaning the potential for high stakes and high drama should attract even the most casual of rugby fans.

3. F1 Australian GP (18th) and Malaysian GP (25th)

The 2012 Formula 1 season gets under way with an enticing double-header which will have fans setting their alarm clocks for some ungodly hour to watch 12 teams and 24 drivers take to the grid for 200 miles of screaming engines and squealing tires. First up is the relaxed atmosphere of Melbourne‘s Albert Park, followed by the exotic, ultra-modern and sweat-inducingly hot and humid Sepang circuit.

Last year these same two races opened the 2011 calendar. Both were dominated by Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, who set pole position and then won at a canter, giving him the first two of his 11 race wins as he cruised to his second consecutive drivers’ title. Again the main challengers to Red Bull’s dominance are likely to come from the all-British McLaren pairing of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, and Ferrari’s duo of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, the latter of whom seemed to spend most of last year colliding with Hamilton. Vettel’s teammate Mark Webber will also be hoping to improve on a 2011 showing in which he failed to win until the season-ending Brazilian GP.

4. AFL kick-off (24th-April 1st)

Once the formalities of the pre-season NAB Cup have been completed, Aussie Rules football returns with a vengeance this month as the regular season kicks off across two weekends. It’s easy to mock the sport as a bastardised version of rugby played on a cricket pitch as an excuse for 36 men to have an organised brawl, but beyond the obvious jokes it’s an incredibly skillful sport to watch. Players require massive stamina just to finish a game on a playing surface close to double the size of a football pitch, the pain tolerance to compete in a contact sport without the benefit of padding, and the ability to accurately kick a ball 50 metres or more, frequently while on the run.

The opening match on the 24th sees the Greater Western Sydney Giants – the AFL’s new 18th franchise – take on local rivals Sydney Swans. I’ll be keeping an eye open to see how long it takes the new team to notch up their first win – last year’s new side, the Gold Coast Suns, took just four games to do so. The rest of the opening round of games takes place between Thursday 29th and Sunday 1st April, when I’ll be cheering on my team, the West Coast Eagles.

5. Sri Lanka vs England, 1st Test (26th-30th)

After their 3-0 whitewash at the hands of Pakistan, England travel to Sri Lanka for a two-match series in which they will be hoping to reassert their position as the number one-ranked Test side in the world.

Despite some outstanding performances by their bowlers, England’s batting collapsed at critical times throughout the Pakistan series, which has cost Eoin Morgan his place in the side. But others, most notably Ian Bell and captain Andrew Strauss, will also need to rediscover the form which went so conspicuously missing, particularly against spin. At least Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen found theirs in the subsequent one-day series, which England won 4-0 as the pair shared four centuries between them. Ahead of a summer which sees them hosting both the West Indies and number two-ranked South Africa, Andy Flower’s side will be keen to reestablish themselves against a Sri Lanka side who will be no push-overs on their own turf.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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