One more Wiggle rider has a home for the future - the ailing Hitec Products team has managed to stump up the cash to run through 2019, and Lucy Garner will ride for them, as will former Parkhotel Valkenburg youngster Chanella Stougje.
Back in racing matters, the former GP de Pooley, now renamed GP de Plouay-Lorient Agglomération, was on yesterday featuring a strong cast of classics women and climbers. The reigning champion is Lizzie Deignan, so we were without the defending champ, and also 2011 winner Annemiek van Vleuten and 2014 winner Lucinda Brand were absent, however there were a couple of former winners contesting the event, with the on-fire Marianne Vos having won in 2012 and 2013, and Eugenia Bujak having got that surprise victory in 2016 in the first Women's World Tour. There was a strong lineup although a few teams were down to bare bones, Boels even entering just four riders - Guarnier, Pieters, Canuel and Schneider - after a couple of illness and injury-related withdrawals. Canyon and Mitchelton were also undersized, with 5 riders each, though the former welcome Hannah Barnes back into the fold after her injury lay-off. The fact that the course doesn't quite favour either the climbers or the sprinters clearly means that different editions will vary in how hard they are raced and the differences that are made, and so the startlist ran the gamut from pure sprinters to elite climbers, with several teams trying to balance out the aims of both - Alé leading with Hosking but also having Ensing and Santesteban, for example, while other teams that don't have the same size of roster were utilizing mid-season pickups to help pad depth - Cervélo gave a race debut to Sophie Wright who they've just picked up from the UK domestic scene (while they of course as ever mingle their climbing and sprinting aims because of their small roster size, and given Lotta Lepistö's relative durability as a sprinter that makes sense, while obviously their side of the team directed towards the climbs is represented as ever by Ash Moolman-Pasio and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig) and WaowDeals' mid-season pickup on the startlist was Inge van der Heijden, the 19-year-old cyclocross specialist having come on board in May but mainly raced the domestic races and .1s rather than the WWT thus far.
I quite like the way Plouay runs, where it is a women's race which runs in conjunction with the men's race, but it's on a separate day with its own coverage and therefore you have a Bréton cycling weekend, which makes it feel like an event, but with the benefit that the fans out there to see the women know they're going out there to see the women, so it's a better gauge of the audience than the races where you have to balance out against the number of fans who are going out there to see the men later and the women act as a supporting cast.
While it seemed bizarre back in the Giro, Lotta Lepistö might start to make these attempted (abortive attempted) solos a thing seeing as she had a go early on, but it was one of those races where the péloton was not keen on the composition of any break that attempted to go, and so the pace was kept high and the inevitable attacks were prevented from gaining too much time, as we often see in women's cycling when the smaller team size and lower number of riders in the position to attack and be given the rope as they aren't seen as a threat but can still sustain a sizable gap means that traditional "break of the day" antics aren't as successful, with the attack->catch! attack->catch! method keeping the pace high until the elastic snaps. As a result it was only on the penultimate lap that we saw a significant move, with Hanna Nilsson - a strong climber who was top 10 on the Col d'Izoard last year - attempting to go long range, but a lack of support combined with Cervélo-Bigla trying to set up attacks on Ty Marrec, meant that she was swept up as the fireworks began, and the bunch was trimmed considerably after Moolman-Pasio set the pace on the race's trademark climb trying to get rid of as many of the fast women as she could.
When they got to the final ascent of Ty Marrec, the official Laws of Womens' Cycling (not Sharon, rest in peace) were adhered to, that is to say, the road went uphill, and Kasia Niewiadoma attacked. She was marked, and then counter-attacked, by Trek-bound Elisa Longo Borghini, which drew Vos out of the bunch to cover her. Several attacks then characterised the run-in; Aude Biannic decided to show off her French tricouleur, standing little chance in the sprint, but was swiftly covered and countered by Megan Guarnier, which drew another move from Longo Borghini, with Wiggle lacking a sprint option and with her needing a very specific composition of break to stand a chance in the sprint (probably her and a couple of the less experienced specialist climbers like Magnaldi and Merino, I'm not sure I'd even back her against Niewiadoma in a sprint these days as Kasia seems a bit more competitive in them than a couple of years ago when she could barely outsprint Abbott), but Vos was not keen on letting that
go, before Moolman-Pasio had another go, resulting in the pack being reduced to just 15 and dumping her own remaining helpers, Koppenburg and Ludwig, out the back door (though if they had nothing left to give, that might have been why Ash attacked). Jose Been's recap made me laugh at that point as she explains how pointless trying to escape the clutches of the bunch would be at that point, "but that did little to deter Alé Cipollini's Janneke Ensing"... because there isn't much that deters Janneke from attacking, it must be said. That said, the official results sheet showed that it was actually a case of mistaken identity and was in fact the Italian, Soraya Paladin, and not the former speed-skater. Nevertheless, she did well and took it into the final straight but realistically that straight is too open and the sprinters too strong for her to have stood a realistic chance of making it especially with a pseudo-counter of Bujak and Spratt chasing down, as two isolated riders could potentially otherwise have tried to get the teams with numbers in the group - Boels (Guarnier & Pieters), Canyon (Cecchini & Niewiadoma), Sunweb (Lippert & Rivera) and Movistar (Biannic & Jasińska) - to do the lion's share to pull the escapee back which might have created the bit of hesitation that Paladin needed (especially as you could argue Movistar and maybe even Canyon wouldn't want to burn matches since neither of their riders would be expected to win a sprint against the likes of Vos, Rivera and Bujak). It's also doubly strange as it was precisely that kind of bluffing as an isolated rider two years ago that enabled Bujak to take her and her team's biggest career victory.
In the end though, bare bones lineup or no bare bones lineup, Boels-Dolmans are still Boels-Dolmans, and though their dominance hasn't quite been as, well, dominant as a couple of years ago, the insatiable appetite of the orange armada for victory is undiminished, and Amy Pieters outkicked Vos and Rivera to the line, extending the team's lead in the teams classification of the WWT and denying Merckx some potentially crucial points, given that for the most part the remaining races are flatter races which will potentially favour Vos over van der Breggen. Rivera's strong autumn continues, after a spring that was a little on the disappointing side given her explosive introduction to the World Tour. The remainder of the péloton - some 30 riders or so - trailed in at 40" back; Biannic was the best home rider in the absence of PFP, but was swamped in the sprint, eventually finishing 14th of 15 in the group, only besting Paladin who sat up when she was caught.
1 Amy Pieters (Boels-Dolmans) NED 3'17'18
2 Marianne Vos (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) NED +st
3 Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) USA +st
4 Elena Cecchini (Canyon-SRAM) ITA +st
5 Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) AUS +st
6 Alison Jackson (TIBCO-SVB) CAN +st
7 Małgorzata Jasińska (Movistar) POL +st
8 Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervélo-Bigla) RSA +st
9 Eugenia Bujak (BTC City-Ljubljana) SLO +st
10 Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) POL +st
The final WWT stage race begins on Tuesday, too - the Boels Rentals Ladies Tour. It is a six-day stage race covering the south and east of the Netherlands, also known as "where all of the best terrain in the Netherlands is". Luckily, no TTT this year. It starts in Arnhem with a prologue and then moves to Nijmegen where they show us everywhere the Giro went wrong, with an interesting hilly circuit which features 8 times up the van Randwijckweg
climb, a variation on the Oude Holleweg, 7 times as part of a circuit and then after the final time, descending straight back down before a long straightish run-in.
After that there are two flat stages before the now-traditional Sittard stage which finishes at the Tom Dumoulin Bike Park, though unlike the men who lapped the outside of the Bike Park, the women do the little climb up to the artificial hill. The stage is even longer than last year's thanks to a minor re-routing being required - 160km, which is pushing up against the usual limit, as opposed to 157km - but to all intents and purposes it's the same race as last year's stage
won by Janneke Ensing in style, and a similar stage but with a different finish to the 2016 one won by Niewiadoma. The Cauberg stage from 2013-15 is now off the menu given that it has been supplanted by Amstel Gold, which it more or less had the exact same route as, so this and Nijmegen will need to be made to count by the climbier riders seeing as the race ends with a 19km ITT, one of the longer ITTs on the WWT calendar and a good opportunity for a Worlds tune-up seeing as the women don't get to do the climb in the men's TT at Innsbruck.
Last year Annemiek van Vleuten won both the prologue and the long TT (which was mid-race rather than on the final day) to underpin her overall victory and of course she's in rainbows against the clock and pinning #1 onto her jersey, so she'll be the woman to beat. All of last year's top 4 enter though there's no sign of Linda Villumsen who was 5th - however with van Dijk (2nd last year), Brennauer (3rd last year) and van der Breggen (4th last year) there's plenty of competition to lay a marker down for the World Championships. Cervélo are probably the most high-profile absentee team, they will likely skip the subsequent Lotto-Decca Tour (Tour of Belgium) too and prepare for the World Championships via the Giro della Toscana as this seems to be the team's usual calendar.
Mitchelton are out in force to back up Annemiek's defence and also try to take a bunch of stages where possible - Jolien d'Hoore is here to sprint, Amanda Spratt is here to be an alternative threat, and with Elvin, Roy and Williams they've got some tough riders for all terrains that the Netherlands can throw at them. Boels are, as ever, super strong top-down in their home race, none of the junior riders or lower-down-the-totem-pole riders even get a start - Blaak, van der Breggen, Canuel, Pieters, Majerus and Dideriksen mean it's all killer no filler from the marchers in orange. Sunweb have a double leadership threat with Lucinda Brand and Ellen van Dijk, but the fact Liane Lippert does not start means that I believe Sofia Bertizzolo has now sewn up the WWT U23 jersey as she cannot mathematically be defeated. No Niewiadoma for Canyon either, they will rely on Amialiusik for their climbing hands and none of these climbs are out of Cecchini's range either, while Klein will sprint/TT and the Barnes sisters are good on this terrain too, with Worrack to be the combative and mighty veteran. Wiggle are all-out to go out on a high note, with Wild here to sprint and Longo Borghini and Brennauer here for GC, and WaowDeals will presumably be all about shepherding Vos to a defence of her WWT jersey to lead into the last flat races of the season.
Hosking will sprint for a reduced (5-woman) Alé team, Ensing is probably their GC threat while this is also alleged to be one of Roxane Knetemann's final races as she's rumoured to be retiring at season's end and it would be nice for her to bow out at home so to speak. Most of the next echelon of teams, such as Cylance, FDJ, and co., are out in force with their strongest teams, and of course Parkhotel Valkenburg will see this as a home race too and have the phenom sprinter Lorena Wiebes on hand. With the Dutch teams all out in force, the Dutch national team is mainly mere prospects, but the American national team looks very strong with Katie Hall leading even if the route isn't ideal for her, and Tayler Wiles, Leah Thomas and Skylar's big sister Samantha Schneider all on-hand.