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The Women's Road Racing Thread 2019

Page 20 - Get up to date with the latest news, scores & standings from the Cycling News Community.
Janneke Ensing has her new team, and it is WNT-Rotor, who have quietly assembled a pretty damn strong lineup, adding Ensing to a squad that already includes Kirsten Wild and Lisa Brennauer. With Ane Santesteban and now Ensing on board, they have at least a couple of wildcards to throw into the more mountainous races, and if Clara Koppenburg can produce some performances like she managed on Xorret del Catí back in February in some of the bigger events in stage race season, this could be a team that really can't be taken lightly.

Officially it looks like Ensing's first race with the team will be the Thüringen Rundfahrt der Frauen, but given her climbing chops I wouldn't be surprised if they crowbar her in to Emakumeen Bira since they're on the startlist, with Santesteban scheduled to lead the team in her home race.
 
Karlijn Swinkels wins stage 1 of the Vuelta a Burgos. The Tour of California gets started today as well, which is a significant race due to its WWT status. As with last year, it's basically a flat/flattish stage, then a queen stage, then effectively a crit. The queen stage is a Mount Baldy MTF, however, so is almost certain to be decisive. It often suffers a bit in the startlists from the glut of races at this time and some of the teams not wanting to spend the budget on a major flyaway race to North America for a single three-day race, which is understandable but is also a shame as a mini-season in North America here could really help, as there really is the feeling that the US domestic calendar is a bit cut off from the European one, seeing as a lot of the biggest US races are during the March-April phase when the biggest classics are going on in Europe, so you don't really see much crossover apart from Rally/UHC's periodic European Tours. So in a way, this is quite a good marker, although it's effectively the peak of the American riders' form vs. the Europeans coming off of a Classics season peak, so sometimes it's hard to get an accurate picture of how the riders' levels stack up. For example, last year's race was won by Katie Hall, in the midst of an almost unprecedented savaging of the US domestic calendar; it would also be fair to describe Hall's entry into the European péloton with Boels this season as "decent, but still settling in."

This is, however, her cup of tea - a longer climb on wide open home roads - and she will likely want to hit this in form. Despite being the defending champion, though, she doesn't get bib #1 (!) - that instead goes to her teammate Anna van der Breggen, in the rainbow jersey. Anna won the 2017 edition of the race almost by accident as she was using it as a recovery ride and just marking moves for teammate Megan Guarnier. The Boels team is small - just five riders - but basically their climbing team is here, leaving the rouleuse squadron to take on the rugged flat terrain of... Emakumeen Bira?!

Anyway: van der Breggen, Hall, Canuel, Blaak and Schneider represent Boels. Skylar is the youngest and probably domestiquing here but she does get to ride the home race. They won't have it all their own way though; since Trek are based in the USA, their team comes here with strength, led by Lizzie Deignan who hasn't historically been a climber for the big obstacles, preferring punchier terrain, but did podium on the Col d'Izoard a couple of years ago. Ruth Winder won a fairly mountainous Giro Rosa stage last year, and Tayler Wiles finished a very creditable 2nd in this race last year, so they've got home interest in the GC too. Canyon-SRAM also have some strength - though most of their team is on a rouleuse tip, with Alexis Ryan, Hannah Barnes and Lisa Klein mostly being for that terrain, they do have one of the women's péloton's premier climbers in Kasia Niewiadoma, for whom this is one of the very few races on the calendar she can do alongside partner Taylor Phinney; seeing as he isn't really built for climbing and doesn't do the Ardennes, and she isn't really built for flat races in the wind and rain of the Benelux. Sunweb's team doesn't seem too fussed about the GC, without any real bonanza climbers, unless Labous breaks out, but CCC are definitely in the other camp, taking a reduced-size squad like Boels, but being led by climber extraordinaire Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, and with the in-form Marta Lach and the very capable climber Pauliena Rooijakkers to assist her. It's a bit too late for WNT to get Janneke Ensing into the race to give them a climbing threat, so they'll be reliant on Erica Magnaldi, though she's been pretty decent on the climbs for a couple of seasons now. Marta Cavalli has been pretty decent for Valcar and threatens Bertizzolo in the U23 standings, while BePink have former World Champion Tatiana Guderzo - though she tends to build the whole season around the Giro these days.

Then there's the national péloton. Rally have some good chances here with Kristabel Doebel-Hickok a very decent climber, but their best climber, the Canadian Sara Poidevin, is absent. TIBCO won a stage last year with Kendall Ryan, Alexis' older sister, and Brodie Chapman may have designs on the GC after winning the Tour of the Gila a couple of weeks ago. Chloe Dygert was 2nd there, but I suspect this type of climbing and this field may be too much for her at this point in time; German-born Canadian Jasmine Duhring may be a more interesting contender for the Twenty20 team. And the Cogeas-Mettler squad here might be the weirdest (and oldest) squad ever assembled at a WWT race. You have a rider promoted from the Cogeas development team in Switzerland but not registered with the UCI team (Perizzolo-Pointet), a New Zealander who rode the Tour of the Gila (Paine), a seemingly semi-retired mercenary hired in for the race but having not raced since January (Scandolara), and then the oldest assault on a GC ever seen - with Olga Zabelinskaya, the now-Uzbek veteran and multi-Olympic medallist who turned 39 last week; Amber Neben, a former World Time Trial champion who is now 44; and Edwige Pitel, the Frenchwoman who didn't take up cycling until well into her 30s and has still sustained a 15 year career - next month she turns 52.
 
And in other news, we have an interesting impasse developing as the UCI is now demanding 45 minutes of live coverage for WWT races going forward from 2020, basically directed at certain unnamed (but pretty unsubtly referenced) major race organisers who are dragging their heels when so many have worked so hard to provide coverage, both at WWT and non-WWT races. And as if by magic, ASO are threatening to allow their races to walk from the WWT because of it.

Because as I said before, if they broadcast women's racing, people might enjoy it, and then they'd be pressured to do more than the bare minimum for it, and that might divert funds away from their great big rally raid money pit that they frequently piss all their Tour de France profit away in. I suspect this might be pretty misjudged from a PR point of view, though, because it basically means ASO are straight-up admitting what we've all known all along.
 
Re:

jaylew said:
So, ASO would rather pull Flèche and Liège from the WT rather than provide 45 minutes of coverage for the women's races? God, how I despise that organization! Worst in cycling imo.

Those are the type of women's races that should get some air time. Glad that some of them will be getting air time. That is the one thing they need. With air time more people will find the sport and watch and in turn that might bring more sponsorship.
 
Re: Re:

I posted this after FW, and still stand by almost every word. The only words I don't stand by are ones where, amazingly, it turned out my actual expectations of ASO were still too high.
Libertine Seguros said:
RedheadDane said:
I see the Queen of Huy won again.
And once again it wasn't broadcast...
ASO... at this point I'm almost certain that it's wilful sabotage. Between the steadfast refusal to offer any airtime to their races and the 2019 La Course being five laps of the Pau ITT course (which means that the women must be finished by the time the men start, which with likely around 160 men starting means they'll need 3hrs + the time to complete the course for the men to do it (1 min gaps for the first 150, then 3 min gaps for the top 10), meaning the women will probably have to start four hours before the men are scheduled to make sure there's time to do all the podium ceremonies and everything, meaning they start seven hours before the people that the fans want to see go by, and also of course it's a flat to rolling slightly hilly one-day race, something that is very over-represented on the women's calendar, as opposed to the last two editions which have been very mountainous and somewhat unique on the calendar, and also it's less likely to draw the positive crowd factor of the Champs Elysées editions either.

I mean, how can they look at the climactic final kilometres of the women's race in 2018, with van Vleuten stalking van der Breggen every moment to the line, with Anna holding on for grim death and looking like she'd done it only for disaster to befall her at the last, how can they look at the mano a mano battles for the last 30km compared to the phony war enacted by the men a few hours later, how can they look at that Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig interview, in tears on the tarmac out of sheer passion and joy at, just once a year, being made to feel like a star, and say "we need to provide less of this" unless their goal is actively to stop women's cycling from catching on? See I actually kind of think that is their goal. Firstly, because at La Course last year the women rather upstaged the men. Partly that was because the women had just come from a tough Giro and there were varying fatigue levels, as opposed to the men who had raced a week of pan-flat boring stages. Partly that's because La Course is not the universal target that the Tour is on the men's calendar, so people weren't all at the same point in their form cycle. And partly that's because it was a one-day race for the women, with no tomorrow to fear. But the women's race was better received and more active than the men's. And not only have ASO failed to - no, refused to capitalise, but they have actively regressed. Why, unless they were trying to prevent the women producing an exciting race?

Why? I think ASO are worried about having to spend money that they don't want to spend. They don't want to take any risks. That's the crux of it. They don't want to be pressured into producing a bigger women's race; the whole point with La Course was to do the bare minimum and pat themselves on the back about it, so that they could say they were 'doing their bit' for equality. That's why they stuck with the Champs crit for a few years until there was expectation for more, and then they decided to ape a different stage of the race, building buzz but not having to go out of their way. If you look at the way ASO has expanded its portfolio in recent years, it's all been about taking on established races (increased stake in Unipublic, purchase of the Dauphiné) or taking money from oil rich states in the pay-to-play fashion (Qatar, Oman and similar). This can help them fund their often loss-making pet project, the Dakar Rally, which is somewhat beleaguered at the moment, this year's race struggling to get support with Bolivia and Chile both pulling out and Peru having problems stumping up the money to host. Le Tour and the cycling portfolio basically props up the Amaury family's Rally Raid interests. Spending money on what is seen as a risky investment, expanding their women's cycling portfolio, is not something they're keen to do at such a time as audiences are reducing for Le Tour, and the Dakar is in a bad way.

But, at the same time, in today's environment, they are also feeling ever more pressure to give the women more inclusive treatment. Having overstretched themselves and wildly miscalculating the level of professionalism in women's cycling when first trying to launch a women's Tour in the 80s, ASO are reluctant to try again, even at the point at which professionalism in women's cycling has come on in leaps and bounds. And they want to stymy all of the clamour to do so, in the wake of some pretty exciting racing now being seen by more people thanks to other race organisers having the temerity to produce better coverage. As a result, they don't want to run any women's cycling events that aren't concurrent with a men's event which is already extant; and they don't want to give any airtime to that women's event. By not showing the women's race, it is hard for people to judge the women's races against the men's, and it's hard for the casual fan to develop the same kind of support for the characters of the women's péloton that allows them to choose sides and want to follow them all year round; by only running events in conjunction with the men, it makes it impossible to judge what the actual appeal of a standalone women's event would be (this can vary wildly; many will only start and finish in pretty obscure locations, and many promoters struggle with a lack of funding that means races aren't well marketed, but well-run standalone races like the Women's Tour and the Ladies' Tour of Norway show that you can get some good crowds for women-only races).

As such, the only way we're going to get proper TV coverage for La Flèche Wallonne Féminin is in one of the following circumstances:
- ASO caves to the pressure and creates a bigger July race out of La Course, a facsimile of a Women's Tour de France or otherwise, and feels the need to push women's cycling elsewhere in order to maximise the potential of their investment, leading them to focus on improving coverage of those races already in their portfolio;
- Another race organiser is tasked with organising La Flèche Wallonne, with more interest in promoting the women's race
- the UCI makes it compulsory that they broadcast it.
- if we're really, really lucky, ASO will start making money from the Dakar and some more competitive editions of Le Tour will bring some more sponsors on board and mean they're willing to take a few more risks.

I mean, when the women are in the decisive parts of the race, the men are easing around with absolutely jack happening, so it's not like we can't catch up.
So yes, I was wrong. It turns out that not even the UCI making it compulsory will get us TV coverage. ASO say they aren't 'able' to provide coverage. That seems incredibly unlikely given we've been able to get live broadcasts from even tiny races like NEA4 in Finland (albeit just from following motos). I say they aren't 'willing' to provide coverage.

I mean, Christ, just give the Motomedia team a call. I'm sure they'd do it. They produce decent coverage of the Lotto Cycling Cup races and things like the GP Elsy Jacobs, they're based in Belgium, they'll be on site anyway. It can't cost too much for a company like ASO to subcontract to them and put it on a streaming service like in Luxembourg last week.
 
Well, that's an institutionalised thing at Telegraaf, clearly. I don't blame Puck for using the platform she's given at all, but we are talking a major race organiser who organises two World Tour races in neighbouring Belgium (albeit not the Dutch-speaking part) which have been dominated by Dutch riders in recent years (one of whom is both very popular and very outspoken in the past about the treatment of women's cycling), and a Dutch newspaper. And of all the Dutch riders there are out there, they elected to solicit the opinions of a rider who has never finished an Ardennes classic (2x DNFs at Amstel Gold and 1 at Flèche) and whose best result is a 17th at the 7-Dorpen-Omloop Aalburg. Not the Dutch reigning World Champion who has won Flèche five times back to back (not even Valverde can say that); not the Dutchwoman who won Liège solo in the World Tour leader's jersey and podiumed Flèche; not the Dutchwoman who is the greatest women's cyclist of all time; not the Dutch classics specialist who just scored a surprising 2nd place; not the Dutch youngster for whom the podium of Liège-Bastogne-Liège is her career's crowning glory to date and who was unable to produce a coherent interview due to her emotions afterward. Not the former Dutch national champion who finished 5th on the day. Not the Dutch time trial specialist who finished in the top 15 on the day while monitoring for her younger teammate up the road. You get the picture. Well, literally speaking so do Telegraaf, since they didn't choose to post, say, Amanda Spratt's similar criticism (they can't even use the linguistic defence here as Puck's original tweet was in English) and the headline prioritises Moonen's appearance over either the validity of her comments or, in fact, the actual news that the article is about.

To be honest, this type of coverage has been on the wane (and good for that), so it's a bit of a shock to see something as transparently sexist crop up, but I guess it's the perfect metaphor for it - women's cycling being treated more respectfully everywhere, and then when discussion of ASO is involved, a brief foray into backward-minded chauvinism.
 
In less infuriating or argument-inducing news, however, we have racing.

28 minutes of video re the Tour of California stage 1
Some slightly odd punditry ("now that van der Breggen and Hall are teammates, expect them to go head to head up that Mount Baldy climb"?!) and some sub-Kirby commentary with pretty excessive patriotism that even the British coverage can't come close to (apart from van der Breggen they literally do not mention any other non-US riders). Sadly no helicam footage, but a pretty good summary show otherwise, albeit with the usual idiosyncrasies of American race coverage (distances in miles and height in feet, so not as easy to actually compute quickly the difficulty of a climb as it is in Europe where km and m are preferred).

The stage was anticipated to be a reduced field sprint, but the number of hills and the wind meant it was more decisive than might have been anticipated. We had Olga Zabelinskaya - newly crowned Asian Road Race champion despite only representing an Asian country for about five months - attempting a lengthy move away, but on the late ramp of a small uncategorised climb, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio put the hammer down to bring back the veteran Russian Uzbek, and this split the péloton and it was quickly shorn of all non-immediate threats. The inability of the commentators to immediately recognise Anna van der Breggen being the one that counter-attacked as Zabelinskaya did infuriate me somewhat, since the rainbow jersey is kind of the most distinctive one in the entire péloton, but that's basically how Anna did it - she got away and soloing into a headwind is quite the show of power. The wind then prevented any coherent chase as they rounded a right-hander and it turned into a crosswind; you couldn't describe what was left as a chasing group, it was splintered into ones and twos all over the road, fighting to assemble into a big enough group to attempt a chase. It wasn't even echelons - it was just that the group fell apart as the wind battered them. Eventually they did manage to get a group together, but it was too late to catch van der Breggen. and she set herself on the way to regaining the title in California with a fantastic solo victory. Elisa Balsamo won the sprint for 2nd with the group of 16 being split in the middle with a short timegap. Anna also got 1st through a bonus sprint which gave her some extra time benefit there, so her 18" advantage is turned into a larger one outright

Going into Mount Baldy, the time gaps for the probable GC threats (apologies to Balsamo and Sierra who are up in the GC, but I don't expect them to challenge on Mount Baldy) therefore are:
van der Breggen
Deignan +29"
Moolman-Pasio, Niewiadoma, White +31"
Hall, Wiles, Chapman, Magnaldi, Cavalli, Koppenburg, Rooijakkers, Doebel-Hickok, Zabelinskaya +33"

We can probably write off most of those who lost a minute or more, but worth noting is that Skylar Schneider abandoned, so Boels are pretty short on resources, as they now only have four riders in the race - Canuel, Blaak, Hall and Anna VDB.

Not being funny, ASO, but the freaking Vuelta a Burgos Féminas has managed to get a proper highlights program up - 25 minutes of coverage here. And the third biggest Spanish stage race of the women's calendar doesn't exactly have the same drawing power as La Flèche Wallonne either, with a middling field relatively low on star power, with a couple of decent level teams - Canyon, Alé-Cipollini - but often with young developmental teams. And obviously, Movistar.

Having commented on the idiosyncrasies of the American coverage, it would be remiss of me not to call out the Spanish coverage for the same thing that we frequently get from regional Spanish channels covering smaller races - excessive coverage of the first part of the day, and not enough of the decisive part of the racing, for example, and also just about the only aerial footage being some arty drone shots to show off the small towns the race passes through with the péloton sweeping through them rather than actually providing beneficial coverage of what's happening in the race - but if we're progressing to the point in Spain where even the smaller races are getting proper coverage, that is very heartening considering Spain had been a women's cycling deadzone for several years, apart from Emakumeen Bira, between the 2008 positive for Maribel Moreno and, really, Movistar's entry into the game.

A sizable group got away which included a number of riders from most of the larger teams in the race - with Alba Teruel and Lourdes Oyarbide, Movistar were happy enough (Eider's terrain is yet to come), Alé and Canyon were happy with their chances with Swinkels and Gafinovitz respectively, and for the most part the smaller teams were happy just to have some representation in the group. With an advantage maxing out at two and a half minutes, the race for the win could have been done by the day, but the bunch rallied and started to reel them in. The group's cohesion was broken a bit on the Alto de Tomar, when Roten Gafinovitz attacked for the QOM points, and once the péloton had a visual on the escape on the wider roads in the lead-in they were able to cut the lead significantly, however they were still 12" behind at the line, when Karlijn Swinkels launched a very authoritative sprint to take the stage win and the leader's jersey ahead of her countrywoman Marissa Baks, a 19-year-old on the Biehler team, and the even younger BePink prospect Silvia Magri. No bonus seconds, because we're in Spain.

Stage 2 video
The only 'real' climbs were at the start of this stage, but the ending was on around 3km of uphill, at low gradients, so a bit like those Volta a Portugal type finishes in places like Guarda. A bit of a shame they couldn't climb Altotero, but we'll take what we can. People like Gafinovitz were keen to attack again, but it took a long time for a concerted attack to form - when it did it was from an unexpected source, Katia Ragusa of BePink accompanied by the Paraguayan, Agua Marina Espinola, of the UCI World Cycling Centre, and when they were brought back, BePink used it to launch Nicole Steigenga off the front. For the most part, though, this was a tightly controlled stage, save for some speculative moves when they took to narrow or unmarked roads. The uphill sprint was perfect for the in-form Soraya Paladin, who was phenomenally strong in the Tour of Yorkshire, and she took everybody to school on the finale to win very, very comprehensively and make it 2/2 authoritatively for Alé-Cipollini. I might have to steal that finish for one of my Vuelta designs, though, not hard enough for time gaps and hard to know if the puncheurs or the sprinters will prefer it.

Although, as you will see from watching it, this is why the 3 seconds rule for time gaps is really, really stupid. 1 second is fine. It's stupid that Paladin is not awarded a time gap over the whole field there, let alone over the lower end of the top 10, who were a good 5 seconds behind her. Mavi García and Katia Ragusa were closest to Soraya, and Alena Amialiusik also worked her way towards some form. Swinkels held the purple jersey on countback.
 
...and the Boels duo did their thing on Mount Baldy to give us another pairing to put into the pantheon of team one-twos, with van der Breggen and Hall riding everybody into dust and then the deal being done, with Hall taking the stage win and van der Breggen keeping the jersey, moving them into 1st and 2nd overall.

Ash Moolman-Pasio was next over the line and last to drop, 33 seconds back, ahead of Clara Koppenburg, the 23-year-old German showing Xorret del Catí was no fluke (she was 9th in the Emakumeen Bira last year, but was entirely anonymous in Il Giro), and then the Canyon-SRAM duo of Omer Shapira and Kasia Niewiadoma. It's particularly impressive from Shapira who had been in a solo break before that, and the duo were the last riders inside a minute of the Boels duo, before the American teams took over, with Brodie Chapman for TIBCO and Emma Grant of Twenty20 the next two to cross the line (although both are not American, Chapman an Aussie and Grant a Briton), before Doebel-Hickok and 44-year-old Amber Neben rounded out the top 10. Also strong showings come from Pauliena Rooijakkers, Tayler Wiles, Juliette Labous, and remarkably Hannah Barnes making the top 20, just behind Moreno (!) and ahead of Zabelinskaya (!!).

This means, going into the final stage, the top 10 of the GC looks like this:
1 Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) NED
2 Katherine Hall (Boels-Dolmans) USA +29"
3 Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (CCC-Liv) RSA +1'06"
4 Clara Koppenburg (WNT-Rotor) GER +1'25"
5 Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) POL +1'34"
6 Brodie Chapman (TIBCO-SVB) AUS +1'47"
7 Kristabel Doebel-Hickok (Rally-UHC) USA +1'58"
8 Omer Shapira (Canyon-SRAM) ISR +2'12"
9 Emma Grant (Sho Air-Twenty20) GBR +2'15"
10 Pauliena Rooijakkers (CCC-Liv) NED +2'30"
 
Re:

Libertine Seguros said:
In less infuriating or argument-inducing news, however, we have racing.

28 minutes of video re the Tour of California stage 1
Some slightly odd punditry ("now that van der Breggen and Hall are teammates, expect them to go head to head up that Mount Baldy climb"?!) and some sub-Kirby commentary with pretty excessive patriotism that even the British coverage can't come close to (apart from van der Breggen they literally do not mention any other non-US riders). Sadly no helicam footage, but a pretty good summary show otherwise, albeit with the usual idiosyncrasies of American race coverage (distances in miles and height in feet, so not as easy to actually compute quickly the difficulty of a climb as it is in Europe where km and m are preferred).

The stage was anticipated to be a reduced field sprint, but the number of hills and the wind meant it was more decisive than might have been anticipated. We had Olga Zabelinskaya - newly crowned Asian Road Race champion despite only representing an Asian country for about five months - attempting a lengthy move away, but on the late ramp of a small uncategorised climb, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio put the hammer down to bring back the veteran Russian Uzbek, and this split the péloton and it was quickly shorn of all non-immediate threats. The inability of the commentators to immediately recognise Anna van der Breggen being the one that counter-attacked as Zabelinskaya did infuriate me somewhat, since the rainbow jersey is kind of the most distinctive one in the entire péloton, but that's basically how Anna did it - she got away and soloing into a headwind is quite the show of power. The wind then prevented any coherent chase as they rounded a right-hander and it turned into a crosswind; you couldn't describe what was left as a chasing group, it was splintered into ones and twos all over the road, fighting to assemble into a big enough group to attempt a chase. It wasn't even echelons - it was just that the group fell apart as the wind battered them. Eventually they did manage to get a group together, but it was too late to catch van der Breggen. and she set herself on the way to regaining the title in California with a fantastic solo victory. Elisa Balsamo won the sprint for 2nd with the group of 16 being split in the middle with a short timegap. Anna also got 1st through a bonus sprint which gave her some extra time benefit there, so her 18" advantage is turned into a larger one outright

Going into Mount Baldy, the time gaps for the probable GC threats (apologies to Balsamo and Sierra who are up in the GC, but I don't expect them to challenge on Mount Baldy) therefore are:
van der Breggen
Deignan +29"
Moolman-Pasio, Niewiadoma, White +31"
Hall, Wiles, Chapman, Magnaldi, Cavalli, Koppenburg, Rooijakkers, Doebel-Hickok, Zabelinskaya +33"

We can probably write off most of those who lost a minute or more, but worth noting is that Skylar Schneider abandoned, so Boels are pretty short on resources, as they now only have four riders in the race - Canuel, Blaak, Hall and Anna VDB.

Not being funny, ASO, but the freaking Vuelta a Burgos Féminas has managed to get a proper highlights program up - 25 minutes of coverage here. And the third biggest Spanish stage race of the women's calendar doesn't exactly have the same drawing power as La Flèche Wallonne either, with a middling field relatively low on star power, with a couple of decent level teams - Canyon, Alé-Cipollini - but often with young developmental teams. And obviously, Movistar.

Having commented on the idiosyncrasies of the American coverage, it would be remiss of me not to call out the Spanish coverage for the same thing that we frequently get from regional Spanish channels covering smaller races - excessive coverage of the first part of the day, and not enough of the decisive part of the racing, for example, and also just about the only aerial footage being some arty drone shots to show off the small towns the race passes through with the péloton sweeping through them rather than actually providing beneficial coverage of what's happening in the race - but if we're progressing to the point in Spain where even the smaller races are getting proper coverage, that is very heartening considering Spain had been a women's cycling deadzone for several years, apart from Emakumeen Bira, between the 2008 positive for Maribel Moreno and, really, Movistar's entry into the game.

A sizable group got away which included a number of riders from most of the larger teams in the race - with Alba Teruel and Lourdes Oyarbide, Movistar were happy enough (Eider's terrain is yet to come), Alé and Canyon were happy with their chances with Swinkels and Gafinovitz respectively, and for the most part the smaller teams were happy just to have some representation in the group. With an advantage maxing out at two and a half minutes, the race for the win could have been done by the day, but the bunch rallied and started to reel them in. The group's cohesion was broken a bit on the Alto de Tomar, when Roten Gafinovitz attacked for the QOM points, and once the péloton had a visual on the escape on the wider roads in the lead-in they were able to cut the lead significantly, however they were still 12" behind at the line, when Karlijn Swinkels launched a very authoritative sprint to take the stage win and the leader's jersey ahead of her countrywoman Marissa Baks, a 19-year-old on the Biehler team, and the even younger BePink prospect Silvia Magri. No bonus seconds, because we're in Spain.

Stage 2 video
The only 'real' climbs were at the start of this stage, but the ending was on around 3km of uphill, at low gradients, so a bit like those Volta a Portugal type finishes in places like Guarda. A bit of a shame they couldn't climb Altotero, but we'll take what we can. People like Gafinovitz were keen to attack again, but it took a long time for a concerted attack to form - when it did it was from an unexpected source, Katia Ragusa of BePink accompanied by the Paraguayan, Agua Marina Espinola, of the UCI World Cycling Centre, and when they were brought back, BePink used it to launch Nicole Steigenga off the front. For the most part, though, this was a tightly controlled stage, save for some speculative moves when they took to narrow or unmarked roads. The uphill sprint was perfect for the in-form Soraya Paladin, who was phenomenally strong in the Tour of Yorkshire, and she took everybody to school on the finale to win very, very comprehensively and make it 2/2 authoritatively for Alé-Cipollini. I might have to steal that finish for one of my Vuelta designs, though, not hard enough for time gaps and hard to know if the puncheurs or the sprinters will prefer it.

Although, as you will see from watching it, this is why the 3 seconds rule for time gaps is really, really stupid. 1 second is fine. It's stupid that Paladin is not awarded a time gap over the whole field there, let alone over the lower end of the top 10, who were a good 5 seconds behind her. Mavi García and Katia Ragusa were closest to Soraya, and Alena Amialiusik also worked her way towards some form. Swinkels held the purple jersey on countback.
Sorry for a slight jump off topic but in the early '80s they told us in High School that we had to learn the metric system because by the '90s there would be no more USA standard system. I assume my math teachers meant 2090's? Its odd how I basdardize the two systems: ie: I talk about grams frequently, but throw in pounds a lot too (my new dirt wheels weigh 1650 grams, but I weigh 150 lbs). I talk about K's as distance, but in miles per hour?!

Anyway, I like the You Tube recaps of ToC!
 
Tour of California stage 2 recap

Obviously we already talked about the dominant performance by the Boels duo a couple of days ago, but it’s nice to see the climb, seeing as real mountain stages, albeit this one being short and effectively unipuerto (two categorised climbs, but as we know, Mount Baldy is a climb in steps), are something that we have disappointingly few of on the women’s calendar (it’s one of the things that really stood out in the comparison of the men’s and women’s World Tours last year). Which Katie Hall draws attention to, as as a specialist climber there really isn’t too much that is biased towards the likes of her on the calendar.

It’s also nice to see the coverage seeing as signal problems at the top of Mount Baldy meant news arrived piecemeal from the race, with the UCI’s twitter and the race organisers seeming to contradict one another, because the tweets were arriving at inconsistent times. Very interesting to see Rivera in the break, getting over the slowly-pedalled first part, along with Kathrin Hammes and Omer Shapira (the two accounts seemed to disagree of which of the two latter riders was strongest, but the answer was Shapira, as we knew from the results!). Shapira might have bought herself a ticket to the Giro with this ride, as Kasia will need some helpers to not be isolated in the mountains, as it seems PFP isn’t riding road much these days, and Amialiusik’s had a few injuries. She stayed with Hall and VDB for a while, longer than expected, and then latched on to Ash Moolman-Pasio afterward too. Unfortunately the lack of cameras and the signal issues meant we didn’t see any of the contesting the positions behind, just the Boels duo riding away together - not a great deal of tension in it of course, because the stage for Hall/GC for Anna deal was pretty obvious, albeit Katie was dropped a bit at one point. The commentators made out “wow, this is a huge resurgence for Katie Hall if she can make it back” even as it was transparently obvious Anna was waiting for her.

Tour of California stage 3 recap

Pleasingly not a straight-up crit like the last couple of years, and a proper long stage too at 130km+, but still expected to be a sprint to finish the race. Boels only having four riders did mean they might have been vulnerable, however, especially as Hall isn’t really that suited to racing on the flat. The péloton were however happy to allow some breakaways seeing as the mountains had created large time gaps, which meant the sprinters’ teams were willing to help Boels work to control them. It led to one of those classic women’s cycling type stages, with lots of small attacks being then chased and caught quickly until the right composition was found. Rooijakkers and Brodie Chapman at least thought they’d take some bonus seconds to lend the possibility of some action later, since they were at the lower end of the top 10.

Eventually a pretty large breakaway was formed, in which Chapman was the biggest threat, but that meant that the chase was led by the GC big guns like van der Breggen, Moolman-Pasio and Niewiadoma. Blanca Liliana Moreno, the Colombian champion, rode up for the mountains points to win the QOM, and the climb trimmed the group down, so Rooijakkers and Kathrin Hammes tried to escape as the bunch brought the group back. The duo gained over a minute, but they didn’t have enough climbing to realistically stay away from the bunch given the wide open and straight finishing circuit, and it ended in a sprint as expected, with Elisa Balsamo taking the stage win for Valcar-Cylance, a huge result for her and the team, ahead of Arlenis Sierra and - surprisingly, Hagens Bermans-Supermint’s Leigh-Ann Ganzar, a 30-year-old latecomer to the sport on one of the smallest teams in the race. Coryn Rivera was one of the bookies’ favourites, but despite being well-placed she was nowhere in the sprint, thanks to being sabotaged by malfunctioning machinery.

This left the final GC more or less unchanged from the previous day, the seconds picked up by the escapees on the day not enough to gain them any positions. Final GC therefore is, as expected:
1 Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) NED 8’32’34
2 Katherine Hall (Boels-Dolmans) USA +29”
3 Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (CCC-Liv) RSA +1’06”
4 Clara Koppenburg (WNT-Rotor) GER +1’25”
5 Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) POL +1’34”
6 Brodie Chapman (TIBCO-SVB) AUS +1’47”
7 Kristabel Doebel-Hickok (Rally-UHC) USA +1’58”
8 Omer Shapira (Canyon-SRAM) ISR +2’12”
9 Emma Grant (Sho Air-Twenty20) GBR +2’15”
10 Pauliena Rooijakkers (CCC-Liv) NED +2’28”

Vuelta a Burgos Stage 3 recap

I have noticed alongside this that, a day behind IDJ, the highlights from the Vuelta a Burgos are being broadcast on TDP, which is great news - however it does mean that the highlights if you choose to watch the TDP broadcast are mislabelled - stage 3 is in fact a repeat of the stage 2 highlights on IDJ. Stage 3 was to be the decisive one, with a finish at the Alto de Rosales, somewhere too big to be a HTF but not big enough to be a ‘true’ MTF. Three categorised and three uncategorised climbs. Rather bizarre seeing the likes of Amialiusik and Bujak - two of the most established stars in the startles - trying to get into the breakaway, although I guess both are just riding here for form. It all came together for the final climb though, and although Alé controlled it with them having the leader’s jersey, defending it with Swinkels was not their intention, rather they had eyes on moving it over to their in-form climber Soraya Paladin.

Before the final climb a new attack led by Christa Riffel was formed, and pulling them back tore the péloton to shreds, given the varying levels of teams in this race. Good visuals from the drone cam here, but unfortunately signal issues meant we really didn’t get to see much of how it broke down on the final climb to understand why, say, Eider Merino lost a minute, but eventually we saw a sprint between Soraya Paladin, Stine Borgli, Mavi García and Urša Pintar of BTC, which was won by the Italian to make it 3/3 for Alé in the race, although thanks to a lack of time bonuses and the rather ridiculous failure to award Soraya a time gap in Poza de la Sal (as it was classified as a flat finish, not a hilltop finish, even though it was obviously uphill and she obviously won by a clear second, and there was a further second plus gap after a couple of other riders) meant that the team had to sacrifice the leader’s jersey to Stine Borgli of Team Norway. Ridiculously, this was on countback, despite Soraya winning two out of three stages.

Vuelta a Burgos Stage 4 recap

The final stage, from Pedrosa de Valdeporres to Villarcayo, was short but featured three categorised climbs including some classics from the men’s Vuelta a Burgos, the Alto de Bocos and the Alto de Retuerta before a descent and flat finish. So there was the chance to make a difference to the GC if you were intent on it, but it would be hard to do so. A lot of attempts to escape that didn’t go too far, though there was some interesting battling on the climbs, with Katia Ragusa putting an exclamation point on her QOM title, as a small escape including her along with other specialist climbers including Eider Merino briefly made a break for it.

As soon as that group was pulled back, however, Movistar decided to make a break for it with Lourdes Oyarbide, and she got a sizeable gap - and a few solo riders started to chase her until eventually the ever-combative Eugenia Bujak had to share duties with Fernanda Yapura of the WCC team, who impressively chased her down - but once they were both working together they were able to pull the Basque back and make it a leading trio. The péloton also split in two on the Alto de Bocos, before so did the lead group, as Oyarbide shed her two companions once more. Yapura worked hard on the flat to bring the Movistar rider back, and two working against one distanced Bujak, but that meant that when they got to the Alto Retuerta, she had nothing left and Lourdes managed to drop her again and ride away solo. The leader’s group was heavily trimmed once more, and a group of 11 made the way away on the climb, until a separate trio of specialist climbers - Hanna Nilsson, Katia Ragusa and Tetyana Riabchenko - proved strongest. Ragusa is young and is the QOM here, but Nilsson and Riabchenko’s credentials as climbers are well known, and on the steepest ramps, they dropped the Italian just as Oyarbide had dropped her Argentine break mate up ahead. Yapura was broken hard, and crossed the summit of the Retuerta just ahead of Riabchenko and Nilsson, but the chasing duo hadn’t gained enough time to prevent themselves being brought back by the reduced group which included Borgli, Paladin and Mavi García.

As Oyarbide had dropped nearly 4 minutes the day before, she was no threat as long as her leash was controlled, and there wasn’t great intent to pull her back, therefore the Movistar rider took it all the way to the house for the de facto home team, to take her first UCI-rated road race victory. Jelena Eric won the sprint for second from the remainder of the group, ahead of Bizkaia-Durango’s Sandra Alonso. I like Lourdes, and I’m happy for her to get the win, she’s an entertaining interview and a gutsy rider, and she was in high spirits after a lengthy solo to break that victory duck. Some minor changes happened in the GC as the result of riders like Lorvik, Amialiusik and Zigart having missed the initial split on the Alto de Retuerta, and though the groups nearly came together by the end, they still lost a few seconds at the line to the one with the GC leader and main contender in it. Final GC therefore looks like this:
1 Stine Borgli (Norway National Team) NOR 9’29’00
2 Soraya Paladin (Alé-Cipollini) ITA +st
3 Margarita Victoria García Cañellas (Movistar Team) ESP +st
4 Urška Pintar (BTC City-Ljubljana) SLO +st
5 Ingrid Lorvik (Norway National Team) NOR +11”
6 Tetiana Riabchenko (Doltcini-Van Eyck Sport) UKR +12”
7 Urška Zigart (BTC City-Ljubljana) SLO +14”
8 Ella Harris (Canyon-SRAM) NZL +21”
9 Maaike Boogaard (BTC City-Ljubljana) NED +23”
10 Daniela Conceiçao Reis (Doltcini-Van Eyck Sport) POR +23”
 
During the week, we have the next race for climbers on the Women's World Tour, the Emakumeen Bira, which is basically the women's version of the old Euskal Bizikleta, which has outlived its men's equivalent, which was merged with the Vuelta al País Vasco in the late 2000s. Emakumeen Bira literally means "women's race" in Basque. Before that, we have its one-day predecessor, the Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria.



Now with a fairly sizable sponsor in Laboral Kutxa, or Caja Laboral for the Castilian-speakers, the race features 5 times up the barely-perceptible Alto de Miota, before climbing the Alto de Goiuria twice, first from this side, and then finally from this one.

Then, the main event kicks off. As evidence of what a nothing climb Miota is, it also features in stage 1 of the Emakumeen Bira, from its harder side, and isn't categorized.



The first stage should be a sprint, the race doesn't typically attract a strong sprinting field but with some teams having sent their main climbers to California, there are therefore a few more sprinters here than you might ordinarily expect. With few real threats and the last climb over 20km from the line, expect a sprint of sorts in Iurreta, the race's traditional home, a small town which has now been swallowed up by its larger neighbour, Durango (home of former Basque cult cycling hero Eneritz Iturriagaechevarría and her family bike shop).



Stage 2 is a slightly odd one from Adana to Amasa, looping around the east of Euskadi, around the Tolosa area. The two significant climbs are dispensed with early, but the closing circuit is far from flat, with a 700m uphill into Adana three times on a circuit, before a second uphill out of Villabona to Amasa for the stage finish. Although it's uncategorised, the finish is the first kilometre of this ascent (don't get too excited, nothing at the summit to enable an MTF) so it's 1km at 7,2%. The official site also notes some very narrow and technical parts of the circuit, so it's quite likely riders can get out of sight and out of mind.



Stage 3 is something more than a HTF but not quite an MTF, with a very steep finale at Santa Teodosia, with the last 2km averaging a savage 11% and with ramps of up to 17%. This one comes with little respite after the inconsistent Opakua, so we're likely to see some serious GC action here. The stage is mostly flat until Opakua, but in the women's bunch that's a climb that can potentially be decisive, with those inconsistent ramps, nevertheless I'd expect all of the main contenders to be together again by the base of Santa Teodosia to give us a real battle there.



The final stage is a brute, at 156km in length, this is very much the equivalent of a 220-230km stage for the men in terms of equivalence to the rest of the race days faced. With four categorised climbs and at least one uncategorised one, this should be a real test. The run-in is similar to the penultimate stage of the 2012 Vuelta al País Vasco, with the Puerto de Asentzio, 18km from home, the final ascent - though they haven't seen fit to include the uncategorized Alto de Garagaltza that was sneaked in to the race seven years ago. Still, this one will probably see Asentzio be the decisive climb, but a lot of selection will be forced before that.

So, who's here? Well, van der Breggen, Hall, Moolman-Pasio and Niewiadoma are all in the US, as you know, so they aren't contesting the Basque mountains. That takes two former winners (Niewiadoma won in 2015, Moolman-Pasio in 2017) off the startlist, and with CCC not racing meaning no Vos, Johansson now retired and Ferrand-Prévot's active status unclear, at least as far as the road is concerned, that means that Amanda Spratt, last year's winner after a final stage escape, is the only former winner of the Bira on show. She is accompanied by her team leader, and superstar woman of steel extraordinaire, Annemiek van Vleuten, who was 2nd last year too, in a very strong Mitchelton team that also includes Lucy Kennedy. They like this race and they were only prevented from winning back to back editions after an awesome climbing display by Ash on Jaizkibel when it looked like they'd comfortably win it in 2017. Bigla are all out for this too, as Cille is of course a top class climber, and it was here two years ago that Nikola Nosková arrived. Canyon are going with the Burgos team, led by Amialiusik, but they fly in Elena Cecchini, who likes attacks and hilly terrain, and Omer Shapira, who had a career day on Mount Baldy. Jetlag is a potential problem but if she can sleepwalk through the first two days she could come good near the end. Trek-Segafredo have likewise flown Tayler Wiles in after racing California, though she will have no leadership responsibilities with Elisa Longo Borghini expected to shoulder that responsibility; the Italian was 2nd here back in 2013. Virtu will probably see Bertizzolo trying to compete for the WWT U23 jersey (and potentially more if she still has her RVV form) and Norwegian grimpeuse Katrine Aalerud - 10th on Zoncolan last year - as their prime threat. And WNT could be outsiders to win this outright, with Clara Koppenburg flying back in from California and Ane Santesteban on home roads - she usually goes well here and if she can climb like she did in last year's Giro, she probably won't beat Annemiek, but she won't fear too many others on the startlist.

The Movistar climbing duo of Mavi García and Eider Merino may be worth keeping an eye on, though. Merino's form didn't look great in Burgos, but these are her home roads, while García is having a great couple of months. Alé Cipollini also have Soraya Paladin, who looked strong as an ox that has the strength of two oxes in the Tour of Yorkshire and won the two hardest stages in the Vuelta a Burgos - including one whose finish resembles that of stage 2. BTC City-Ljubljana placed 3 riders in the top 10 there, and their team is pretty strong too, as they have the two Urškas, as well as Hanna Nilsson, all of whom rode well in Burgos (and the latter of whom is a proven climber), and then they've brought in Anastasiya Chursina, one of their stronger riders, and the ever unpredictable Rossella Ratto, to complement them. The biggest "eh?" on the startlist is Boels-Dolmans, who of course have all of their climbing side in California; of the five riders they have in the Basque Country, the best climber is hard to ascertain, but it'll be one of Christine Majerus, Eva Buurman and Amy Pieters I'd wager - so they may well be key actants in the first half of the race, trying to make hay while the sun shines, but I'll be very surprised if they have anybody top 5 come the end of the race with the Santa Teodosia finish and then the final stage - but stranger things have happened, and if any team can shuffle their cards to force their way into a GC mix they have no right on paper to be part of, let's face it Boels-Dolmans is that team.
 
Lots of people sitting up in Emakumeen Saria to keep their powder dry once the key move was made, and that meant some big, big time gaps there. And a victory for Lucy Kennedy, which is excellent news for her as the late convert to the sport has had a bit of trouble staying upright in her time since coming to race in Europe. It's also a starter for her season, realistically (of her 248 CQ points in 2019 before today, 235 of them were in Australia in January) and looks like it was quite emphatic as well, arriving solo with a 30 second lead or so as Australians dominated, with Amanda Spratt sprinting for 2nd ahead of Soraya Paladin and Shara Gillow. It's ideal for Spratt as she gets a good result whilst simultaneously not having had to do too much work ahead of her defence of the Bira title. Soraya Paladin is having a really, really good late spring. Impressive durability from Jolien, too.

1 Lucy Kennedy (Mitchelton-Scott) AUS 2'56'37
2 Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) AUS +26"
3 Soraya Paladin (Alé-Cipollini) ITA +26"
4 Shara Gillow (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine) AUS +28"
5 Amy Pieters (Boels-Dolmans) NED +59"
6 Urška Pintar (BTC City-Ljubljana) SLO +1'10"
7 Jolien d'Hoore (Boels-Dolmans) BEL +3'32"
8 Charlotte Becker (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine) GER +3'32"
9 Elena Cecchini (Canyon-SRAM) ITA +3'35"
10 Alicia González Blanco (Movistar Team) ESP +3'38"
 
Bira proper began today. In what might be a colossal middle finger to ASO in view of recent news, not only are the Bira stages all being covered live, but there was also live streaming of the teams' presentation. At an unbroken run of 32 editions, it is the longest continuous event on the women's calendar, although it is predated by the Trofeo Binda (which dates back to 1974) and the Thüringen Rundfahrt der Frauen (which dates to 1986) which have both only lost one or two years. Bad news from the off is that Cille is unwell and had to withdraw, being replaced by British youngster Sophie Wright. The race is also notable for being Annemiek van Vleuten's first time racing in the WWT leader's jersey. Yes, I questioned that too, but while she's led the classification before, she's never worn the jersey - she led the WWT after Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2017, but then took a break and lost it before she raced again, and while she won the classification last year, she only assumed leadership of the WWT in the last race she entered so never wore the jersey in competition.

The first stage was, as per my preview above, the flattest, although the organizers drew attention to a narrow pinch point with 15km to go and, as ever in the Basque Country, little that claims to be flat truly is. With both bonus sprints (time) and metas volantes (points), it got a bit confusing, but interestingly to note we did see Amanda Spratt gain three seconds at the bonus sprint for time at the top of the Alto de Miota, ahead of Sofia Bertizzolo and Ane Santesteban, so people who may well be key figures for the GC were getting involved. Trek's Anna Plichta went on the attack and gained some time in a solo move reminiscent of her combative rides in Polish national colours to set up personal friend Niewiadoma a couple of years ago - these earnt her her ride at WM3, then subsequently Boels-Dolmans and now Trek have taken her on thanks to her hardworking nature and willingness to take on the thankless tasks. While she led over the first climb, however, the bunch wanted her back before the second sprint for bonus time, which Spratt again won, with Annemiek shielding her, suggesting the team is hoping for Amanda to defend as their first option here, with Santesteban once more collecting a solitary bonus second behind them.

Further evidence to suggest Spratt is Orica's leader came when she and Elisa Longo Borghini fought out the points on the second GPM of the day, and then persisted with the attack, gaining 30 seconds before the bunch reorganised, as with two of the strongest teams in the race represented up front, there was a bit of hesitation about the chase, however they were eventually neutralised, at the expense of preventing the dropped riders from getting back on. Said riders were mainly sprinters dropped on the climb, including Emilie Moberg who had scored highly in the metas volantes, and Alena Amialiusik, who had a very unfortunately-timed mechanical at the base of the climb before Spratt and ELB put the pressure on. Jelena Eric of BTC City-Ljubljana tried to use the pinchpoint mentioned above to escape the clutches of the péloton, but in the end a sprint was not to be denied, and, having kept quiet through the bonus sprints and metas volantes, Jolien d'Hoore took advantage of not having wasted any energy previously to take the win and the initial lead of the race, given the comparatively limited sprinting field (as you would expect given the terrain - since when did you see the superstar sprinters of the men's péloton at the Itzulia?

Jolien triumphed ahead of Sofia Bertizzolo and Gracie Elvin, with Sheyla Gutiérrez the best-placed local in 4th. Tatiana Guderzo getting herself up in the top 10 suggests she might be in some form, too. On the GC, however, Bertizzolo's deficit is only 2 seconds, thanks to the bonuses accrued in the metas volantes, and Spratt is 3rd due to hers too, 4 seconds adrift of d'Hoore. Elvin's stage finish time bonus puts her 4th, then Santesteban and van Vleuten are both at +8", with the rest of the bunch at +10". Sandra Alonso is the best young rider, a good bit of exposure for the Bizkaia-Durango team (not sure why Bertizzolo doesn't count for this since she's in the UCI's best young rider classifications for the WWT, presumably they're doing U21 rather than U23 here at Bira). Santesteban gets the best local rider, a jersey she's won on three previous occasions (since Eneritz retired, previously she's only lost out when crashing out of the race, except that 2017 race where Ash Moolman-Pasio destroyed everybody on Jaizkibel and Eider Merino was closest to staying with her, climbing with van Vleuten).

Sportpublic TV put up two and a half hours of live coverage of the race, which you can revisit here. Mixture of English and Spanish commentary. The English part is handled by Saul Miguel, who will be very familiar to long-time women's cycling followers, because he's a very good journalist on that side of the sport and is very active in promoting women's cycling. I did like that the stream used the APM profiles to showcase the climbs too, as a long time backer of their work. Yes, it might look a bit cheap compared to coming up with your own profiles, but we are seeing a fair few race organizers pairing with volunteer groups, such as Itzulia and the Vuelta a Asturias using cronoescalada for their stage profiles, as hiring your own in-house team of graphic designers etc. for a race with no coverage would seem counterintuitive - better to spend that money on coverage and use the open-source material out there to supplement that.
 

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