The Women's Road Racing Thread 2019

Page 27 - Get up to date with the latest news, scores & standings from the Cycling News Community.
Fairly saddening news that BTC City-Ljubljana is not going to run next year, having struggled to manage at the same kind of level as in previous years and having been rather left behind a bit with the increase in the number of top and next level World Tour teams meaning they've been somewhat squeezed out. They had been punching a bit above their weight at first in fairness, with Eugenia Bujak's win at Plouay always being something of an outlier. And with, Bujak aside, the team's most reliable performers being climbers like Hanna Nilsson, and one of their most reliable performers, Polona Batagelj, retiring, they've not been able to succeed at the kind of level they would have liked with the lack of mountainous races on the calendar.
The Boels Rentals Ladies Tour begins tomorrow, with a prologue at the Tom Dumoulin Bike Park. This means no full length ITT this year, which is a mixed blessing. It's positive in that it means the race isn't as dependent on the ITT for its result, but it's a negative in that it means no full length tune-up for the Worlds TT for the European péloton.

Stage 1 is very flat, from Stramproy to nearby Weert, staying to the west of the Meuse which means no climbs at all. Its route does suggest not too much wind as they move all around it, no extensive periods facing the same way, but waaijer racing can never be ruled out in this neck of the woods. Stage 2 likewise is flat, four laps of a long circuit around Gennep. All told, if we're honest, it's a pretty disappointing route, as that's the end of Limburg province for us, so no Amstel Gold-a-like, and no Sittard-Geleen hilly stage, with the latter being replaced by a prologue. Instead our first climb is the Holterberg, a pretty nothing climb on the loop around Nijverdal in stage 3, five times around a circuit including just the one climb. Stage 4 shows us Arnhem to Nijmegen as the Giro decided it shouldn't be, including the Oude Holleweg climb - but only once, not the lengthy circuit route used a couple of years ago which Annemiek van Vleuten obliterated. We do at least have the Zijpenberg late in the final Arnhem stage, but overall this is a very, very disappointing route compared to previous years.

However, what it lacks in inventiveness in parcours, it makes up for in strength of startlist, with the proximity of the World Championships meaning a lot of teams are going all out here with strong names. Mitchelton have defending champ van Vleuten of course, and fellow climber Amanda Spratt, while Sarah Roy and Gracie Elvin are perhaps better suited to this terrain. Likewise for Boels, Anna VDB is here, but Pieters, Blaak and Majerus are perhaps more likely to favour this terrain if the TT isn't too decisive, and d'Hoore must surely be good for a stage win. Trek are absolutely monstrously strong, with ELB, Lizzie Deignan, Lepistö and Ellen van Dijk all in attendance. CCC, however, throw us a curveball by NOT entering Marianne Vos, mainly as presumably she deigned such a parcours to be beneath her. Moolman-Pasio will therefore presumably lead. Franzi Koch is now racing outright with Sunweb after being linked to the team as a non-stagiare stagiare for much of the year, and gets her chance to support the likes of Lucinda Brand and Floortje Mackaij - but strangely not Coryn Rivera. For Canyon, Niewiadoma is in attendance but the race numbers suggest they have no outright leader. The Barnes sisters have struggled a bit this year, but with them and Cecchini - and Klein - the team has possibilities. On this route, WNT will presumably target the stage wins with Kirsten Wild, though Lisa Brennauer may be a decent GC option if she gets the ITT right. Virtu are in one of their last races, Bastianelli will probably be front and centre as ever, while the Movistar-bound Sofia Bertizzolo will also be hunting out points for the WWT U23 standings, although I think that's realistically a two-horse race between Cavalli and Wiebes now. Cavalli is here to fight for Valcar, though she'll perhaps cede leadership to Balsamo for many of the sprints. The latter has pretty much undisputed leadership of her team seeing as the head of the team's other side, Demi Vollering, is absent. Other teams that will provide some interest include Movistar, with Sheyla Gutiérrez and Roxane Fournier to mix it up among the fast women, and Hitec, whose Dutchwoman Lonneke Uneken has been one of the surprise hits of the summer. And it's also nice to welcome Emilia Fahlin back to the fold, the Swede has been absent for four months after suffering a concussion.
So we're a few days into the Boels Rentals Tour, in fact, today is the final day. So what's been going on?

Well, first up, we had the prologue at the Tom Dumoulin Bike Park, which was won by Annemiek van Vleuten. Why does Annemiek not get a bike park? She's older than Tom and has achieved a lot more, relatively speaking, you know? Anyway, van Vleuten in what will be her final outing in the jersey before defending the rainbow stripes took a comfortable six second lead over German national champion Lisa Klein of Canyon-SRAM, and her (AVV's) compatriot Lucinda Brand. Despite the flattish parcours, as noted above, lots of climby names on the startlist, although a good few such as the Spanish names have chosen to go and race either Toscana or the Tour de l'Ardêche (which has a great route this year, by the way) instead - however those high up in the WWT standings are in the Netherlands to try to defend that, despite the lack of a real Amstel Gold like stage that we've seen in recent years. The big surprise was to see Ellen van Dijk way off the back of the results sheet, losing two minutes almost - thanks to dropping her chain, which caused her to crash and ended her GC bid.

Annemiek happily defended her jersey in Stage 1 proper, which was the flattest stage ever held in the Limburg province, most likely, and was won by Lorena Wiebes, in her first actual head-to-head triumph over Kirsten Wild, the veteran powerhouse sixteen and a half years her senior. Fellow phenom Letizia Paternoster - who is in fact younger than Wiebes, having only turned 20 in July, and had already finished 4th in the prologue - took the remaining bonus seconds which kept van Vleuten safe and meant Paternoster looked like the most immediate threat, especially as, seeing as she has won the GP Elsy Jacobs, she's a lot less one-dimensional than Wiebes or Wild. Wiebes had only shipped 13" in the prologue, however, and so when she won the second stage in similar fashion, again ominously outkicking Wild and, this time, the ever-versatile Brand, the Giro winner had to cede the leadership of the race to her much younger compatriot.

Stage 3, around Nijverdal, was much more selective, with the group breaking up into several pieces. In the end, a quartet fought out the victory, with Lisa Klein inheriting the race lead after outsprinting Amy Pieters, Lizzie Deignan and Amanda Spratt - no mean feat - which means that, combined with her excellent prologue performance, she moved ahead of all of those in the +9" group, which numbered a little shy of 30 and included most of the biggest names, including prior race leader Lorena Wiebes, whose Parkhotel Valkenburg team have had a few troubles with defending leads before, remembering Vollering being isolated in Luxembourg. Everybody else was present and correct in that group - Annemiek, Anna VDB, ELB, Kasia, Marta, Brand, Mackaij, Majerus, Moolman-Pasio - although Chantal Blaak lost 2 minutes, and Bertizzolo at 9 minutes concedes that final mathematical chance of picking up the U23 WWT jersey for a second time. Paternoster and Wild were both in that autobus too, and so Wiebes looked the biggest threat.

Once more, however, controlling the race proved difficult in the Nijmegen stage, with Canyon being left with the group trimmed down to 25, and only Klein and Niewiadoma in it, which meant policing the moves became nigh on impossible. The one that went was a three-woman escape of Franziska Koch, the Sunweb stagiare, Christine Majerus and Riejanne Markus of CCC. The youngster prevailed in the sprint, which I wouldn't have anticipated, but it means that Majerus inherits the race lead - the 44 second lead which they had at the line, plus bonus seconds, gives the Luxembourgeoise a 30 second GC lead over Klein and 32 over Wiebes. It was also a crash-strewn day which took out a few names, most notably Ellen van Dijk who will now miss the World Championships with a collarbone injury.

The final stage is going on as we speak, with Roxane Knetemann, in what will be her final professional race, attacking solo.
Chiara Consonni of Valcar - so not the sprinter people expect from them, i.e. Cavalli, or maybe Balsamo - won the final stage from a group of 24, which would suggest a late attack held off as there isn't really anything in her palmarès to date that would make her beating Lorena Wiebes and Marta Bastianelli in a sprint anything other than a huge surprise. CCC put their entire team in the group but were unable to distance Majerus, although given they needed well over a minute for their nearest placed rider, Korevaar, and nearly two minutes for the likes of Moolman-Pasio, that was perhaps wishful thinking anyway. Boels were reduced to two riders by the end, with just Anna van der Breggen left to domestique for the race leader, but Majerus is plenty strong in her own right, and Anna is a real luxury of a domestique, however a third Boels rider, Amy Pieters, and also Annemiek van Vleuten had been in the group but are further down on no time loss, so presumably crashed, although a coincidental double mechanical is perhaps possible I guess. Spratt also failing to finish makes the former a much more likely outcome.

The upshot of this is a much less, well, interesting race than this one has been in recent years with a better mix of full length ITT, hilly stages and rouleuse power stages, but that's to take nothing away from those who have made it to the front of the GC. In fact, if Lorena Wiebes were to win the Madrid Challenge and neither Vos nor van Vleuten score in the remaining WWT races, the 20-year-old could feasibly win the WWT in her first pro year - she is now clearly destined for the U23 WWT jersey at least. However, van Vleuten is scheduled to go to the Tour of Guangxi, while Vos will probably be able to score a decent amount of points if she rides Madrid - she's not slated to ride Guangxi, and it will be interesting to see if, especially considering her success in Chongming Island, Parkhotel decide to throw caution to the wind and go all out in China if they do have the possibility of winning the WWT overall, as that would be an absolute coup for a smaller team as they are. However, the way the season's WWT rankings had, until quite late on, been dominated by Bastianelli and then the possibility of Wiebes winning at this point, illustrated the move away from particularly difficult racing, with regular top rankers like Elisa Longo Borghini now moving down the chain of command and the U23 standings being dominated by sprinters (I find it particularly incredible that Liane Lippert has just 8 points in the U23 standings) - possibly the product of a few races that aren't ordinarily sprints going to them, and of the return of La Course to a non-mountainous route. There's also that Chongming Island, a sprint fiesta, was anomalously fought over by a breakaway last year, and that while the Tour of Britain was far more hilly this year, it is counteracted by the much flatter than usual Boels Rentals Tour too, where Wiebes' ability to pick up bonus seconds has been complemented by an astute eye for the right move which has left her, usually a pure sprinter, picking up some sizable points from stage races (Chongming in particular skews things, where she won all three stages and therefore the GC).

Anyway - Annemiek van Vleuten finished 6th in the GC, and that was sufficient to move her back into the WWT lead for the time being, although whether or not she races in it will depend on Vos or Wiebes in Madrid.

Final GC Boels Rentals Ladies Tour:
1 Christine Majerus (Boels-Dolmans) LUX 17'01'17
2 Lorena Wiebes (Parkhotel Valkenburg) NED +26"
3 Lisa Klein (Canyon-SRAM) GER +30"
4 Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb) NED +34"
5 Amy Pieters (Boels-Dolmans) NED +35"
6 Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) NED +42"
7 Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) GBR +47"
8 Lisa Brennauer (WNT-Rotor) GER +49"
9 Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) NED +52"
10 Leah Thomas (Bigla) USA +54"
I may have mentioned this before, but... honestly; would it be completely impossible to host women's races in connection to the Tour and the Vuelta (gonna skip the Giro here, because there is a women's Giro, which just needs better coverage) that are simply the last week, after the final rest day, maybe - if UCI rules dictates so - in shorter versions?
So this year we'd have had:

  1. Flat stage
  2. Hilly stage
  3. Mountain stage
  4. Mountain stage, and who knows? The women might actually have made it to Tignes!
  5. Mountain stage, though guess that would have had to be shortened too...
  6. Sprint stage
  1. Flat stage, or should I say "wind stage"?
  2. Mountain stage
  3. Flat stage
  4. Mountain stage
  5. Flat stage
It wouldn't be perfect, of course, but... it would at least be more!
I've missed a LOT in the last few days.

So, let's catch up on what's happened this week.

Firstly, last weekend while I was distracted by the Vuelta and the Boels Rentals Ladies Tour, we had the Premondiali Giro della Toscana, unfortunately for Brunello Fanini and his organisatory committee a bit further away from the World Championships this year so the field did suffer a bit for it. The Italian teams were there in force, sure, and WNT sent a good strong team, laden with climbing talent that obviously wasn't likely to hit its full potential in a flatter-than-usual BRLT. The BTC team were out there looking for contracts, for those who have yet to find them (more on that later), and Drops, Minsk and other development teams rocked up. Arlenis Sierra won the prologue for Astana, a strong fillip for her after a quiet season - she has a lot of points on CQ, but they are mainly picked up from her races in North and Latin America and in the WWT she has been very quiet this year; she got a clear advantage over the Russian 20-year-old Maria Novolodskaya and the not-much-older Karlijn Swinkels of Alé-Cipollini. Chursina of BTC was in 4th and, being a solid climber, seemed like potentially the biggest threat. The first road stage went to a reduced sprint of around 30 in the lead group, which was won by Chloe Hosking, with Sierra defending her lead by virtue of finishing 2nd at the line, with Rasa Leleivyte taking the extra bonuses. The final stage had an uphill finish in Pescia after heading from Lucca, the race's base, through Capannori, where Michela Fanini was killed. 9 women made up the front group, with WNT contributing possibly all of the three strongest climbers, Ane Santesteban, Erica Magnaldi and Clara Koppenburg, but they didn't have the sprint for the finish, where again Sierra was ironwoman and finished second, this time behind Soraya Paladin who has been one of the season's revelations. Leleivyte again was 3rd, outsprinting from the remainder of the group Chursina and Santesteban, with the other climbers on WNT complemented by Omer Shapira, the Canyon rider with an Israeli national squad, and Drops' young Elizabeth Holden. Novolodskaya was dropped and so she dropped away from the podium, while Paladin and Chursina climbed up.

Final GC:
1 Arlenis Sierra (Astana) CUB 6'24'24
2 Soraya Paladin (Alé-Cipollini) ITA +12"
3 Anastasiya Chursina (BTC City-Ljubljana) RUS +14"
4 Rasa Leleivyte (Aromitalia-Basso) LTU +18"
5 Clara Koppenburg (WNT-Rotor) GER +23"
6 Elizabeth Holden (Drops) GBR +24"
7 Ane Santestebán González (WNT-Rotor) ESP +24"
8 Erica Magnaldi (WNT-Rotor) ITA +26"
9 Omer Shapira (Israel National) ISR +29"
10 Chloe Hosking (Alé-Cipollini) AUS +47"

We also had two French races on the same day (a bit of a bizarre scheduling clash, seeing as obviously a lot of national calendar teams won't have been able to do both). First was the women's version of the GP de Fourmies-La Voix du Nord, a flat race in the Nord region which was in its first incarnation as a UCI race. The péloton attracted by the race was fairly limited, largely restricted to the smaller French, Dutch and Belgian teams (such as Doltcini-Van Eyck and Jos Feron Lady Force), although with a couple of the WT teams like Lotto-Soudal and FDJ adding a bit of star power. Rally-UHC were also there, ahead of the Tour of Belgium. Thi That Nguyen won the sprint for Lotto, the Vietnamese's first European win of the season (she took a stage of the Tour of Zhoushan Island earlier in the year), ahead of former surprise Belgian national champion Kaat Hannes and the Doltcini-Van Eyck sprint squad.

1 Thi That Nguyen (Lotto-Soudal) VIE 3'08'17
2 Kaat Hannes (Jos Feron Lady Force) BEL +st
3 Pascale Jeuland (Doltcini-Van Eyck) FRA +st
4 Kelly Druyts (Doltcini-Van Eyck) BEL +st
5 Melissa van Neck (BePink) CZE +st
6 Sophie Almeida (DN Auvergne Rhône-Alpes) FRA +st
7 Sarah Inghelbrecht (Mexx-Watersley) BEL +st
8 Danique Braam (Lotto-Soudal) NED +st
9 Clara Copponi (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine) FRA +st
10 Katia Ragusa (BePink) ITA +st

Later in the day we had the Chrono Champenois, a 33km time trial which is, in fact, longer than the Worlds most years. This attracted a small field with a lot of the favourites for the World Championships ITT not putting their cards on the table or instead racing in the Netherlands, so the field was very limited. The World Cycling Centre did contribute quite a bit of intrigue for it, with Marlen Reusser continuing her excellent year in tests against the clock, following wins in Ljubljana-Domzale-Ljubljana, the European Games and the Nationals, with a podium here. The real battle was a very close one, however, between Norway's (formerly Latvia's) Vita Heine and Team Virtu's Mieke Kröger, with the two separated by just four seconds in the favour of the Norwegian; Hitec Products' often beleaguered team will be glad for the success, and there's a certain irony in it, with Virtu's development having proven a big problem for the formerly very strong Hitec, who used to be a rite of passage and the first port of call for pretty much all Scandinavian talents; Virtu usurped them in that role, but are now collapsing while the low-budget Norwegian operation continues apace, and may well find itself providing a home for some of the riders left without a job by the Virtu withdrawal. The oft-controversial Zabelinskaya was in attendance, but some way off the pace, so it seems chances of repeating her Olympic and Worlds heroics in Harrogate are unlikely.

1 Vita Heine (Hitec Products-Birk Sport) NOR 44'35
2 Mieke Kröger (Virtu Cycling) GER +4"
3 Marlen Reusser (UCI World Cycling Centre) SUI +29"
4 Hayley Simmonds (BTC City-Ljubljana) GBR +39"
5 Eugenia Bujak-Alickun (BTC City-Ljubljana) SLO +44"
6 Teniel Campbell (UCI World Cycling Centre) TRI +48"
7 Olga Zabelinskaya (Cogeas-Mettler) UZB +1'45"
8 Anastasiya Pliaskina (Russia National) RUS +2'24"
9 Elyzaveta Oshurkova (Russia National) RUS +3'08"
10 Sarah Storey (Great Britain National) GBR +3'10"

Next up, we had the Lotto Belgium Tour, a four-stage race around western Belgium which attracted a pretty good field as it ran mid-week, albeit assisted with a significant number of national squads to pad out the startlist. Lotto (obviously), Parkhotel Valkenburg and the Belgian national calendar teams made up the rest of the list, but national teams for USA, Germany, France and Norway bringing in a lot of strong names such as Ruth Winder, Liane Lippert, Coryn Rivera, Emilie Moberg, Katie Hall, Audrey Cordon-Ragot and Mieke Kröger, fresh from her 2nd place in the Chrono Champenois. Winder won the 5km ITT that opened the race up, ahead of Kröger who had her second near miss in three days, losing to the American by under a second, but with a 12" advantage over third-placed Coryn Rivera. Kröger wouldn't have to wait long, however, to rectify that problem, as she got into the decisive move the following day, alongside Audrey Cordon-Ragot and Lotte Kopecky, and with the American national team not willing to sacrifice too much to keep them, and the German and French national teams, plus Lotto being the strongest trade team in the race (Parkhotel Valkenburg are higher-rated internationally but with no Vollering or Wiebes, and only five riders starting, their impact was limited), nobody was willing to pull them back and the trio eventually gained nearly three minutes, before Kröger used the fact that Kopecky was the obvious winner of a sprint from the three to her advantage, as she and Audrey started to attack to try to make Lotte chase. Audrey did in fact outsprint Kopecky for second, but Kröger took the race lead from a few seconds up the road. Die Mannschaft controlled stage 2 comfortably to take it to a sprint, with Coryn Rivera salvaging some glory for the American team ahead of Susanne Andersen for the Norwegian team. Perhaps more importantly, Lotte Kopecky took some bonus seconds by finishing 3rd at the line, but her rivals finished ahead of the split at +5" that limited her making any further inroads.

The most important stage was always going to be, however, the stage around Geraardsbergen, including the iconic Kapelmuur on the closing circuit. This usually proves decisive in the Lotto Belgium Tour, and indeed it was again, or rather, sort of was. Certainly it broke the field up. Last year, Lotte Kopecky led in to the final stage but was dropped hard on the final day, and Liane Lippert soloed to victory in both the stage and the GC; this year as the defending champion, the young German tried to put on a show and, although obviously with her team already in the leader's jersey with Kröger and with the sizable GC gap, she was a bit hamstrung in what freedom she had to do that. However, when Kröger was dropped and both Kopecky and Cordon-Ragot were still on hand, Liane's role was then to cause as much disruption as possible - Kröger had a pretty sizable lead from the ITT, but the Germans needed to ensure that bonus seconds didn't come into it. They got an unlikely ally in Coryn Rivera, however, who also laid down a pretty sizable marker for the Worlds, having won both a flat sprint and the tougher Geraardsbergen market sprint in the race, with a clear second's margin over Lippert, and she in turn had a couple of seconds' advantage over Sofie de Vuyst, who took third and denied the two others from the Wednesday break their chance to gain enough time over Kröger. For her troubles, Mieke came in 26" back from Rivera, having been dropped from a group with Katie Hall and Susanne Andersen on the final ramp, but still with enough time in hand to preserve her GC victory. It's probably a year or two too soon, but I'm starting to wonder if Liane isn't a dark horse for at least a medal at Harrogate given her performance here and in Britain earlier in the season. She'll probably lose out because she loses out on punch to the Deignans and Niewiadomas of the world, and loses out on sprint speed to the Riveras and Brands, and obviously the Dutch have an absolute embarrassment of riches (and a course that screams "Marianne Vos" to many) which means they are the team to beat, but given her poor Ardennes campaign Liane might be underestimated a bit, you know. And let's face it, nobody is going to be shocked if somebody like Coryn Rivera wins, whereas Lippert would be out of left field...

Final GC:
1 Mieke Kröger (Germany National) GER 8'37'05
2 Lotte Kopecky (Lotto-Soudal) BEL +8"
3 Audrey Cordon-Ragot (France National) FRA +12"
4 Coryn Rivera (USA National) USA +2'33"
5 Liane Lippert (Germany National) GER +3'00"
6 Ruth Winder (USA National) USA +3'02"
7 Sofie de Vuyst (Parkhotel Valkenburg) BEL +3'02"
8 Susanne Andersen (Norway National) NOR +3'15"
9 Emilie Moberg (Norway National) NOR +3'17"
10 Stine Andersen Borgli (Norway National) NOR +3'19

We're also underway with the Tour de l'Ardêche, which has a nice medium mountain to climby parcours, and a strong collection of climbers on the startlist including Merino and García trying to repeat last year's podium success with the Spanish national team, their compatriot Santestebán alongside Koppenburg and Magnaldi with WNT, Movistar-bound Katrine Aalerud with Virtu, Nikola Nosková with a Czech national team, former podium rider here and Ventoux winner Anna Kiesenhofer with the Austrian national squad, Omer Shapira leading a bare-bones Canyon team, Lauren Stephens with TIBCO, Hanna Nilsson with the outgoing BTC team, veterans such as Guderzo, Riabchenko and even 44-year-old Vysotska, and a CCC team including Pauliena Rooijakkers. Oh, and somebody called Vos, who appears to be pretty strong...

So: transfers in the last week or so.

The first ex-BTC riders to find homes are climbers Hanna Nilsson, who will join Parkhotel Valkenburg and presumably become part of their climbing arm along with Demi Vollering, as they expand on the great success they've had this season and that they've already extended both Wiebes and Vollering's contracts, and Rossella Ratto, who joins the new Chevalmeire Cyling squad, based out of the Benelux and expanded out of the extant cyclocross unit led by Thalita de Jong. If nothing else, they're going to generate a few headlines in the Netherlands, seeing as they've also acquired Nathalie van Gogh, the veteran transgender racer who has become a mainstay of the national calendar in her 40s, and Puck Moonen, whose column inches have always far exceeded her results thanks to a particularly virulent strain of Kournikova Syndrome leading newspapers to sometimes solicit her opinions over those of the likes of van Vleuten, van der Breggen, Brand or van Dijk. Ratto is a potentially very useful acquisition as a reclamation project, though - she's undoubtedly extremely talented, but also very flaky in recent years.

The Casa Dorada team which has already acquired Fournier and Jasińska from Movistar and their ex-teammate Rachel Neylan has now been linked to Marta Bastianelli - some scepticism has abounded as to how the team can afford this, as a new team funded by a relatively low-budget operation, which raises the suspicion this may be a labour of love/sugar daddy project along the Aqua Blue lines. Bigla, meanwhile, have signed Niamh Fisher-Black, a teenage New Zealander, not from next year but with immediate effect, as well as tying Elise Chabbey down for another couple of seasons after a good season capped with a top 5 at the Tour of Scotland. Hitec Products have extended with most of their roster, suggesting a pleasing level of stability for them that has been lacking the last couple of years when Karl has struggled to keep the team afloat, as well as adding young Frenchwoman Gréta Richioud to their roster from FDJ. Lotto-Soudal have signed Belgian national champion Jesse Vandenbulcke, who famously works in a bakery alongside her part-time ride with Doltcini-Van Eyck, so the opportunity for the 23-year-old to go full pro will undoubtedly be appreciated. While her national title was a surprise, she does have 4 other top 10s (of which two are podiums) on the national circuit as well as finishing 10th in the Geraardsbergen stage of the national tour (12th overall) so there's definitely some potential there.
I may have mentioned this before, but... honestly; would it be completely impossible to host women's races in connection to the Tour and the Vuelta (gonna skip the Giro here, because there is a women's Giro, which just needs better coverage) that are simply the last week, after the final rest day, maybe - if UCI rules dictates so - in shorter versions?
So this year we'd have had:

  1. Flat stage
  2. Hilly stage
  3. Mountain stage
  4. Mountain stage, and who knows? The women might actually have made it to Tignes!
  5. Mountain stage, though guess that would have had to be shortened too...
  6. Sprint stage
  1. Flat stage, or should I say "wind stage"?
  2. Mountain stage
  3. Flat stage
  4. Mountain stage
  5. Flat stage
It wouldn't be perfect, of course, but... it would at least be more!
Of course that would be ideal, but I'm afraid I don't see it being too plausible. For the Vuelta it really needs to be in years where the finish is around the centre of the country for logistical purposes (this year would have been fine, but years around Asturias or what have you would be a different proposition). On the plus side, Spain seems to be pretty receptive of women's cycling at the moment, although EITB wanting to partner Emakumeen Bira with the Itzulia is troublesome because that would make it a suboptimal calendar position and harm the startlist due to proximity to De Ronde, which in the women's péloton is much more of an issue than it is with the men. Even so, we have the Emakumeen Bira and its associated one day race, we have the two new one-day races in Navarra, the new Clásica San Sebastián and the hugely upgraded Vuelta a Burgos which had good broadcasts and is apparently very ambitious for developing a Spanish mini-season. Perhaps it would be therefore better for a six or so day Vuelta to go into that kind of position, in late May, and sit before the Tour of Britain, than into a congested pre-Worlds calendar spot?

Obviously the pseudo-crits are a problem as they provide little televisual spectacle and don't really help the women's péloton attract an audience - especially here as many of the bigger names are either unwilling to risk getting injured ahead of the Worlds, or are racing in Belgium or the Ardêche to get their training in on tougher courses. As I mentioned in the race thread, it'd be nice for them to either use the 2005 Worlds course, or extend the current tri-star circuit down to Cuesta San Vicente to actually put some challenges into this course to mean the race actually achieves something. Adding a day is not bad, but perhaps it should be Criterium International format, with an ITT and a semitappe yesterday and then this race today. That might have worked well, actually - do that in Arenas de San Pedro, which hosted the start of the men's Vuelta stage yesterday, you could have a nice tough circuit race including the Alto de La Parra, and do a 70-80km race there either immediately after the men go or ahead of the men's race, and then an ITT in the afternoon when the men are on their stage, give an extra incentive to the fans to make their way to the start because they'll get the départ of the men's stage AND they'll get to see a race, and the women's hilly semitappe will be done in time for them to catch the action in the men's race too.

I've always maintained that the best thing they could have done with La Course was to throw the ASO money towards the Route de France, which has now been killed off partly because of La Course. That was a French week-long stage race that began at the same time the Tour ended, or a week later, and headed across France usually starting in the north and ending with some medium mountain terrain in the Morvan, the Auvergne or, in later years, some genuinely tough mountain stages in the Vosges. Sometimes it would be even tougher than that, but not so much in later years. I felt what would have been best for all concerned would have been if ASO took control of the Route de France and made it an 8 day stage race, starting in Paris on the last day of the Tour de France, starting with an ITT or a TTT on the Champs-Elysées circuit while the men are busy doing their champagne bit before they arrive. A lot of people only watch cycling for the one race a year, or are brought back in to the sport by the Tour de France because of its status, and also a couple of weeks' break after the Giro Rosa would be fine for an eight day race - Evelyn Stevens a few years ago did the 10-straight-day Giro Rosa, then flew to Germany and did the 7-day Thüringen Rundfahrt without a day between, so recovery can easily handle this - and therefore have the opening Sunday in Paris, and then have a stage race which spends a week heading to different parts of France to finish in different mountain ranges. One year, they can head east for the Vosges. One year they head south for the Pyrenées. One year they can head west then loop down to the Auvergne (things like Col de Ceyssat and the climbs around Puy Mary would be plenty enough to create some decisive stages in the women's péloton). One year they can head into the other side of the Massif Central and do climbs like Col de l'Œillon and the Col de la Mûre, or maybe the Ardêche (though that has its own race) or Cevennes, and one year they can go into the Alps themselves. It could easily be done without ever being repetitive, and also starting directly off the back of the Tour would be an ideal way to lead into it... "if you haven't had enough of your cycling fix, then continue to tune in for..."

But this is just pie in the sky stuff, as we know it'll never happen.
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Chevalmeire have now signed the Druyts clan, which basically means they now have an oversized roster. Only kidding, but they do have three of them - Kelly, Demmy and Lenny. Having lost Soraya Paladin, Alé-Cipollini have sought to replace her bank of climbing results by prising Mavi García away from Movistar, who will focus on Eider Merino and Katrine Aalerud for their climbing goals and the newly-signed Sofia Bertizzolo elsewhere. Alé have also been linked to Eugenia Bujak, probably the star attraction in the BTC auction, while Parkhotel Valkenburg have been linked to Anouska Koster who is available after the Virtu pull-out. Meanwhile, Janneke Ensing's short term deal with WNT seems unlikely to be renewed, and so she will be back on the market for a third time in 12 months.