The Women's Road Racing Thread 2021

Page 19 - Get up to date with the latest news, scores & standings from the Cycling News Community.
Demi Vollering, star of the Ardennes.

I mean, Annemiek winning so authoritatively is great, I am a big proponent of the "Annemiek is Awesome" thing as you know, but one of the best climbers and time triallists in the bunch winning after getting away solo is not a huge shock (that Boels-Dolmans managed to allow her to go is, on the other hand), whereas I knew very little about Vollering a couple of weeks ago. Now, I'm a believer. At Amstel Gold you could buy that she was just able to survive with the group thinning out, but the 5th on the Mur de Huy gives the lie to that - she's obviously a top climbing talent, which is a light rather hidden under a bushel racing in the Dutch domestic scene. With both Wiebes for the flat races and Vollering for the hills, Parkhotel suddenly look like they might have hit paydirt. Holding a podium place from a group which includes all of those elite talents is very, very impressive indeed - looking at the likes of Brand and Deignan, there are some decent sprinters in that group too (I'm not going to hold outsprinting the likes of Longo Borghini and Niewiadoma up as some kind of massive achievement, but being there to contest the sprint with them over this terrain when you're a comparative unknown, however, is). Remarkable performances this week.

That said, very impressive for Floortje to make the podium. I thought Liège was a bit out of her remit, as she's been better in more 'orthodox' classics and with shorter climbs. More one for Amstel in Ardennes week, I thought, but this is a superb result for her. Also further back, it looks like Bertizzolo is extending her lead in the U23 standings so she has a very strong chance of defending her title if she does some of the big stage races (she's likely to do better with points from races like California or Bira, the Giro and so on than Wiebes), but in the same group (also with Vos and Fahlin and Guderzo and Neff) you have Mikayla Harvey, a neopro for Bigla, Marta Cavalli who I didn't think would be this durable here, and Maria Novolodskaya who had some really good results last season, podiuming Gracia-Orlová and making top 15 at the Emakumeen Bira.

I mean, I don't want to take away from Annemiek's authoritative victory. She still went away and won by over a minute and a half from a chase consisting almost entirely of the absolute elites in the women's péloton (and those few that weren't may soon have to be considered). All the usual suspects for a hilly classic were present and correct. Van der Breggen? Check. Deignan? Check. Niewiadoma? Check. Longo Borghini? Check. Uttrup Ludwig? Check. Spratt? Check. Langvad? Check. Van Dijk? Check. The only real absentees were CCC, with Moolman-Pasio not in attendance and Vos caught behind. And still, I don't think anybody can express shock at Annemiek staying away, because, as I have stated so often, Annemiek is made of titanium and awesomeness. Especially in terrible weather and rainy conditions, because that's when toughness comes into it, and when toughness comes into it, hand over to Annemiek van Vleuten, woman of steel.
 
Thought today, AVV was the biggest certainty of all the Classic races - She displayed excellent form in Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallone and Flanders which don't ideally suit her skill set - Tougher race in LBL combined with the rugged weather made for a dominating victory.
 
A lot can be drawn from that viewership statistics, and the most important thing is to work on establishing a bias-free fan base... free of stereotypes like "only men's racing is real racing" or general attitude towards women's competitive sport.
Somewhere it's easier to do so (ratings are showing it, and it's in accordance with expectations related to societies), but elsewhere it's not the case.
Girls' field is less equalled, producing more open racing, and everything else you get from cycling is the same as in men's races. Good developmental position, I'd say.
 
The women's bunch, now freed for a couple of weeks from World Tour commitments that lead to universal peaking, splits into a few different parts now.

Firstly, we have the Women's Tour of Yorkshire. A lot of the biggest teams, especially those based in the Low Countries, for which this is just a short trip across the North Sea, albeit several of them with odds-and-sods lineups, mixing a couple of elite stars with their younger prospect riders. However, one of the benefits of the Tour of Yorkshire is that the trend of men's cycling becoming shorter and more straightforward means that for once we are able to see races where the men and the women take on exactly the same course, with both stages being just over the 130km mark.

For interest, the men's stage was completed in 3 hours 9 minutes, the women's in 3 hours 35.

Anyway. Mitchelton-Scott are probably the star turns in this race, bringing both van Vleuten and Spratt, their two biggest stars, while other big teams go with one bonanza star and some other riders who, while strong, aren't necessarily their marquee names. Boels and CCC both come with five riders only, but led by van der Breggen and Vos respectively. Of course, any Boels-Dolmans lineup is dangerous, and van der Breggen, Buurman, Majerus, Dideriksen and Pieters is a lot of firepower that rather masks the low team numbers. Canyon leave all of their climbing hands behind and focus on the Barnes sisters on their home roads, with their other riders all being their youngest and least experienced riders. Trek have local girl Lizzie Deignan leading them (and British TV has Phil Deignan on commentary duties for the men's race, so there is that link, though he is handing over the reins to Lucy Martin and Dani Rowe for the women's event) but no Lepistö or Longo Borghini. Sunweb are without Rivera, Brand, van Dijk or Ensing, instead led by Mathiesen and Lippert. On the flip side, some smaller teams are going all out for this. WNT have entered Brennauer and both arms of their climbing side, Santesteban and Magnaldi; FDJ have Fahlin and Gillow on hand; Movistar have decided to bring their star climbers to this because of the Scarborough stage; while Alé Cipollini can compete in the sprint with Chloe Hosking and in the climbs with Soraya Paladin.

Most interesting among the smaller teams, both on paper and in practice, are Parkhotel Valkenburg in those so-bad-they're-good jerseys. With veteran help from Roxane Knetemann, they have two of the season's revelations at hand - tomorrow in the Scarborough stage, people will have their eyes on Demi Vollering after her stupendous Ardennes week, but before that we had a sprint today, and Lorena Wiebes, the junior phenom, made mincemenat of the field to show that her early season form and success at Gent-Wevelgem and de Panne was no fluke, beating a useful sprinting field including Majerus, Jackson, Fournier and Brennauer.

Elsewhere, we have the four-day Gracia-Orlová race in the eastern Czech Republic. A long standing women's race over hilly terrain, it includes five stages over four days, from Thursday to Sunday. Fewer big teams here, but a few worthwhile names in the national lineups. The star attraction was also the winner of the first stage, Marta Bastianelli of Virtu, who lost her World Cup overall lead in Liège-Bastogne-Liège but whose crazy good start to the season shows no sign of abating. The only other World Tour team on the startlist is BTC, but with Bujak and Nilsson they had a strong starting lineup at least. However, a fair few others in the national teams - Ann-Sophie Duyck of Parkhotel, and Kelly van den Steen and Julie van de Velde of Lotto for Belgium; Anna Plichta of Trek for Poland; Maria Novolodskaya of Cogeas for Russia; Omer Shapira and Roten Gafinovitz of Canyon-SRAM for Israel; Martina Ritter (ex-of Wiggle) for Austria; and emerging from the shadows, Hanna Solovey, now with the Ukrainian LVIV team, where she is the only recognizable name - unless you're really dedicated, in which case you may remember Valeriya Kononenko being at the Fanini team a few years ago (I didn't). I believe she's the sister of Mykhaylo.

Either way, stage 1 into Stramberk saw a few small groups formed by the complex finale, Bastianelli opening a couple of seconds in the run to the line ahead of Novolodskaya, Van de Velde and Pintar (Novolodskaya is only 19, I hope that she can follow in Chursina/Iakovenko's footsteps and move west before too much of the stigma of Russian/Ukrainian etc. cycling ends up on her and teams don't take a look - interestingly Zabelinskaya has now moved to represent Uzbekistan so will be seen less often in events like this), with Kirillova and teenage Frenchwoman Jade Wiel at +11", with further groups at +17", +25", +30" and +36". On day 2, Mieke Kröger continued Virtu's winning run with victory in the morning ITT over 13,5km, taking the victory ahead of Anna Plichta, with Canyon's Israeli duo also in the top 5. In fourth place, however, was Novolodskaya, and so the teenager inherited the race lead, finishing 30" quicker than Bastianelli and with Van de Velde and Pintar each either side of 40" from her time. Duyck was a surprisingly uncompetitive 15th at 1'11" here, and is normally a very good time triallist, so this suggests either a crash or a mechanical, unless she's maybe sick or something because you'd usually expect her to at least be in the mix for a podium in this field. She also lost a minute on the bunch in the flat stage in the afternoon so it suggests something is wrong. In the afternoon Rachel Neylan made it three wins out of three for Virtu, but despite Bastianelli's best efforts - she gained four seconds over the 60-strong péloton, which was led home by Polish track specialist Nikoł Płosaj - the World Tour team couldn't wrest control of the race from Novolodskaya's troops.

Finally, in North America, the Tour of the Gila is going on, with a fairly limited field - not many of the European péloton want to travel across so soon after the Ardennes, and are waiting for the Tour of California to do so, while TIBCO are starting one of their European jaunts, so some of their key riders are there - Alison Jackson, Shannon Malseed, Nina Kessler, Rozanne Slik and Lauren Stephens are all racing in Yorkshire. With Brodie Chapman and Lex Albrecht they still have some talent in the domestic races though, and among the key opposition in this mountainous race for them will be Rally - most notably through former Cylance rider Kristabel Doebel-Hickok, who is a more than capable climber, and young Canadian Sara Poidevin, who was top 10 in the Ardêche and California last year and finished 2nd in this race last year behind Katie Hall, who's now blown town to race in Europe. Kristin Armstrong's Twenty20 project has the likes of Chloe Dygert who has come from the track but seems to be talented enough to decide what she wants to do and then go out and do it, while there are some real blasts from the past here too - Veronica Léal Balderas, a 42-year-old Mexican who spent several years racing in Italy a decade ago, and 51-year-old Edwige Pitel, still going strong on a mercenary basis.
 
Looks like someone forgot a rather important detail in the article about the Barnes sisters.

The Barnes sisters, Hannah and Alice, will be hunting victories on home soil at the upcoming two-day Tour de Yorkshire, held on May 3 and 4. Barnes will especially be looking to secure a top result during stage 2, which falls on her birthday.
When talking about a pair of siblings, you should always refer to each individual by their given name.
Imagine if they went and made an article about the Druyts sisters some day, and just refered to them all as 'Druyts'...
 
Interesting story in that Janneke Ensing and Sunweb are parting ways, effective immediately - taking Janneke from the star signing to without-a-team in four months. The parting was mutual - it seems that Janneke didn't feel the highly regulated and set team structure suited her, and the team recognised that they were not the environment to get the best out of her. Some discussion has been around how the team does have a very regimented way of doing things, which is great for the development riders they're bringing through - Lippert, Labous, Mackaij, Mathiesen and so on - and helps with their import of North American riders on their first European contract, such as Kirchmann and Rivera, who benefit from not being left to their own devices adapting to the European péloton as is so often the case with riders having to up sticks to compete in these events; however, their environment may not be the best backdrop for somebody who has already learnt what does and doesn't work for them, and at 32, Janneke is one of those, even though she's a pretty late adopter of pro cycling, thanks to her speedskating career. The other thing is that Ensing has over the last 2-3 years been something of a maverick racer, often initiating hostilities, getting into early attacks and counter-moves with regularity, as effectively Alé would give her complete freedom in any race that was too hilly for Hosking and Bastianelli, whereas working cohesively with the likes of Brand, Mackaij and Rivera may have been stifling for her racing instincts and affected motivation.

The next question is, where will she go? She had a good Strade Bianche, but her form was completely wrong for the Ardennes, where she'd have expected to be at least a peripheral contender. The most logical destination is back to Alé-Cipollini, who have lost one of their most reliable results-getters in Marta, and although Soraya Paladin has been picking up some placements this season, losing both Marta and Janneke has been a gap in their results sheet. And she would have the freedom to do as she pleases in the hilly races there, you would think. She could also be a good fit for teams with either a limited roster or only a wildcard interest in the climbing stages. A couple I thought about were Bigla (who lost Moolman-Pasio and Lepistö and whose climbing arm is similarly combative with Ludwig and Nosková), Movistar (who have a wildcard feel in the mountains about them in general - plus her and Gosia competing alongside one another would be a real potential troublemaking duo in the hills) and Lotto (who have brought in wildcard climbers before, such as Lichtenberg and a then-part-time-only Pooley, and signing Anna Kiesenhofer after her Ardêche showings), all of whom are not top 10 teams on CQ right now and only Bigla, thanks entirely to Cille who represents 490 of their 584 points, are relatively safe for automatic invites next year. FDJ and BTC may also be interested, but I'd say Alé are the most likely. I would have thought Parkhotel Valkenburg might have worked, being a local team and one she got her first break with, thanks to their tendency to collect ex- or current speed skaters (van den Bos, Buurman, Ensing, Vollering, the list goes on), but with Wiebes and Vollering they're now a top 10 World Tour team and don't really need to safeguard results with Janneke the way they might have done in previous years...

Oh, and kudos to ITV4 in the UK - we've talked about how the Women's Tour doesn't have any live coverage but has excellent highlight coverage, but at the Women's Tour of Yorkshire they are producing live coverage start to finish, so anybody with streaming services, VPNs or Britons with access to ITV4 who are interested in the race can pick it up in full.
 
Oh, and we've already had Marianne Vos up the road - now we have Anna van der Breggen going solo with 70km to go, with Lizzie Deignan chasing, and then a quartet of Vos, Lippert, Spratt and Hosking being pulled back by a reduced péloton. So this is probably going to get messy.

Edit: at 55km out, it's van Vleuten, van der Breggen and birthday girl Soraya Paladin in a front trio, with a chasing quintet including Deignan about 20" behind; Lippert was in a chasse-patate but has been brought back by the group behind. Now the groups have connected. Vos is there, as is Heine. Echelons behind! So we now have three groups:
- van der Breggen/van Vleuten/Vos/Deignan group (which Mavi García is attacking now) - 9 riders including Mavi.
- second group with Banks working, and teammates of the above sitting on including Spratt
- "péloton" - echelon plus small bunch at circa 1'45.
- echelon with Wiebes

Looks like the Wiebes group will join the péloton group, and the front two groups seem to be merging.

Now Vos, Pieters, Spratt and Lippert teased off the front of the enlarged front group, chasing García, and Paladin chasing them. It's carnage out there. Edit further: Hannah Barnes has also made it into that group. Deignan refusing to work in the group behind, it looks like she might be isolated? Paladin is definitely isolated and not interested in pulling that group so she attacks to make it across to the quintet in the middle.

Edit: now appear to be 8 riders making up the chase, 25" behind García, at 40km from home, but two climbs to go. Tailwind now, however.

Penultimate climb makes it a quintet behind again. García looked like she was struggling, but extended her lead to 40", with Paladin, Vos, Pieters, Barnes next over and a Mitchelton-Scott rider, either Sarah Roy or Amanda Spratt, can't yet identify which. Van Vleuten and van der Breggen - with Deignan too - also dropping away here. Not sure if they're backing themselves to get back on on the descent and then move on the last climb or if they've done too much work as their Ardennes form starts to fade, but we shall see. Doesn't look to be much impetus in their chase. Banks and Pfeiffer Georgi (!) ride on to the chase group. Mavi still has 30".

Last climb of the day, and we can also ID the Mitchelton rider as Amanda Spratt, which makes sense on such a climbing-centric course. Paladin knows there are some weaker climbers there and is ridding her group of the likes of Amy Pieters and Lizzie Banks. Paladin and Vos are now riding away from Majerus, Spratt and Barnes; they have a visual on Mavi now so it looks like the Movistar rider's fugue may be over. She does, however, win the QOM for her trouble. I think it's going to be a trio from here, and it's hard to see Vos not winning from the trio. Even if they're caught by the second trio, then my money is still on Vos because she's been strongest on the climbs and nobody can double up on teammates except maybe Majerus who can bluff as Pieters is behind.

3 vs. 3 now: Vos/Paladin/García vs. Majerus/Barnes/Spratt. Majerus has bonus seconds from yesterday so Vos is determined to keep Majerus behind her. They're separated by about 10". On the plus side for Marianne is that neither Paladin nor García back their chances in a sprint (Paladin has a decent kick but Mavi has none, and neither would back themselves against Majerus or Hannah Barnes, I'd wager) so this is their way to the podium and their group is working more cohesively than the one behind; on the plus side for Christine, Soraya's done a lot of work and they've only just brought back García from her lengthy solo escape so she'll be more tired, and Vos will therefore need to work hard to keep that move away which may weaken her in a sprint should the two groups join together.

So Marianne decided that her backup group was not strong enough and is trying to solo in from 27km out.

It was a bad decision, as Paladin was strong enough to bridge back over, and all she succeeded in doing therefore was losing the compliance of the other two in working with her to stay away...
 
Over in the Czech Republic, Marta Bastianelli took great offence at only finishing 9th in the TT, endangering her record of only ever finishing in the top 10 this year, so she took apart the inexperienced Russian national team's resources as she and Julie van de Velde put over a minute into the chasing group of 8, which finished just ahead of another group of 18, then the péloton were at 4 minutes. Novolodskaya did everything she could - aided by teammates Kristina Kirillova and the 18-year-old Daria Malkova, but with Kelly van den Steen and Birgitte Andersen running interference for the lead duo, it was somewhat unsurprising that the winner of the Rondes, both van Drenthe and van Vlaanderen, would take the race lead back in the two-up sprint.
 
Yorkshire - The favored riders took liberties with the course by attacking a long way from the finish and into a stiff headwind and paid the price - You had to wait until around 40 kms when you had a cross tailwind - And then if Spratt and Barnes worked with Majerus they would have got back to the lead three - Some strange tactics in this race.
 
Bastianelli took it a step further in the final stage of Gracia-Orlová, escaping with teammate and time trial specialist Mieke Kröger to put three minutes into the field! Kröger took the stage win and Bastianelli the GC, with an eventual advantage of 4'24" over second-placed Julie van de Velde and 5'05" over Maria Novolodskaya. A pretty strong-looking top 10 all told - 4-10 are taken up by Anna Plichta, Rachel Neylan, Roten Gafinovitz, Hanna Solovey, Hanna Nilsson, Martina Ritter and Nikoł Płosaj.
 
Libertine Seguros, question for you as my knowledge of the women's side of thing is very, very basic and only know who a few riders are. How big is it for Movistar's women's team and for Mavi Garcia to have finished 2nd in the GC at Yorkshire? The team is extremely happy with that result.
 
Re:

Koronin said:
Libertine Seguros, question for you as my knowledge of the women's side of thing is very, very basic and only know who a few riders are. How big is it for Movistar's women's team and for Mavi Garcia to have finished 2nd in the GC at Yorkshire? The team is extremely happy with that result.
It is a pretty strong result, especially given a) how the race was run, and b) the strength of the field. Being a 2.1 race, it isn't as big as had she done it in a WWT race, but in terms of the prominence - broadcast start to finish, with her being in a solo break and holding on - it's a pretty big deal. The other thing is that while Movistar have established themselves pretty well in the women's péloton, this is intended as a relatively long-term development project for Spanish women's cycling, which has really, really been in the doldrums since Maribel Moreno's positive test a decade ago. As a result, you'd say that at present they're kind of a mid-sized team - clearly weaker than Boels, Mitchelton, Canyon, Sunweb, CCC/Rabo/WM3/WaowDeals, and now Trek; and without a clear bonanza points-scoring leader like Bigla have with Cille or Virtu have with Marta. As a result you'd say they fit into that bracket with teams like Alé-Cipollini, WNT, FDJ and teams of that kind - bigger than the smaller Italian teams, and for the most part the development Dutch and Belgian teams (the exception is Parkhotel Valkenburg, who are really punching above their weight thanks to great performances this season from Lorena Wiebes and Demi Vollering), so while their squad gets them a lot of placements, wins and podiums are a bit harder to come by. They have very few wins outside of national championships (Aude Biannic and Eider Merino are national RR champions of course, and Mavi is national TT champion. Małgorzata Jasińska is national champion in both disciplines).

Aude Biannic won the prologue and finished 2nd overall in the Lotto Belgium Tour last year - but that has very limited coverage. Roxane Fournier has been signed as sprinter and has been racking up the 4th places but struggling to get that step up onto the podium just yet. Alícia González got onto the podium of the Vuelta a Comunidad Valenciana and the GP Morbihan last year, but neither of those have TV time, and the fields aren't as strong as here in Yorkshire. Sheyla Gutiérrez is their big money signing for this season, she was 5th in Dwars door Vlaanderen but hasn't hit peak yet. Gosia Jasińska had a career season last year, but aside from the nationals found victories hard to come by. She managed only a couple of podiums - GP Plumelec and Veenendaal-Veenendaal - but her top 10s in the Ronde, Bira and Thüringen made her season great. Their big international success was of course the Tour de l'Ardêche, where they took on a middling climbing field with Eider Merino and Mavi García both in great form. Except that the duo were racing for a Spanish national team there rather than in their Movistar colours, so the team didn't get the benefit when Eider won on Mont Serein (they did however get the positive coverage from her climbing in the Giro).

A podium against this kind of field is therefore a big achievement for the team. Though it's still only a .1 race, which they've got podiums in before and even a stage win, the fact that the prize money and the TV coverage means this race has a much better field than many other .1 races makes it mean more. To be 2nd in this race, Mavi has had to be better on the day than van Vleuten, than van der Breggen, than Deignan, than Spratt, Brennauer, and Gillow. And perhaps also importantly for Movistar, seeing as this team is meant to be about building and rebuilding Spanish women's cycling and engaging that audience, it's a top result they've got from one of their Spanish riders too. Yes, Mavi is 35 years old, she only took up cycling at 30 (I think she was a triathlete before) so it's hardly inspiring up and comers they can build the team around long term (Gosia is also 35 of course). But also, while hilly, this isn't the kind of terrain that the team might have expected to get a podium out of. Races like the Ardêche, with long drawn out climbs that their specialist climbers like Merino can grind people down on are more that kind of thing.

Of course, that the Tour de Yorkshire has one of the best prize pots on the women's circuit - especially among non-WT races - can't hurt either. Helps justify a lot of the money expended on the team.
 
Re:

Slight correction:

Libertine Seguros said:
Over in the Czech Republic, Marta Bastianelli took great offence at only finishing 9th in the TT, endangering her record of only ever finishing in the top 10 this year, so she took apart the inexperienced Russian national team's resources as she and Julie van de Velde put over a minute into the chasing group of 8, which finished just ahead of another group of 18, then the péloton were at 4 minutes. Novolodskaya did everything she could - aided by teammates Kristina Kirillova and the 18-year-old Daria Malkova, but with Kelly van den Steen and Birgitte Andersen running interference for the lead duo, it was somewhat unsurprising that the winner of the Rondes, both van Drenthe and van Vlaanderen, would take the race lead back in the two-up sprint.
That's Birgitte Krogsgaard, as per our discussion about names a few pages back. You fell victim to the Danish thing of riders being known primarily by their middle names.
 
Thank you for the write up and explanation. That makes sense. It felt like it was a huge accomplishment with how the team was talking about it, but I wanted your take as you follow the women's side and really understand what is going on there.
 
So I can't really see Chongming Island keeping its status much longer if not for payola, because its calendar spot is becoming increasingly difficult for it to attract a decent field. With the Ardennes having just finished, and with both California and Emakumeen Bira coming up shortly in the WWT, as well as the GP Elsy Jacobs and the brand new UCI-rated version of the Vuelta a Burgos, the number of teams willing to jet over the other side of the world for a pan-flat three day race is pretty limited.

Only three of the top 10 teams in the World Tour are on the startlist - Mitchelton-Scott with a fairly bare bones lineup led by Sarah Roy; Parkhotel Valkenburg who are built around Lorena Wiebes, with all their hilly riders staying in Europe to support Vollering in the GP Elsy Jacobs; and WNT who also are at a bare bones level, with their bigger name riders like Brennauer and Magnaldi racing in California. Defending champion Charlotte Becker isn't here, but the Hitec Products team that she won with is; the other podium riders from last year, Shannon Malseed of TIBCO and Anastasiya Chursina (née Iakovenko) of BTC, are (though Chursina has since left the race). However, their podium was built on a miscalculation by the bunch - much like the Women's Tour péloton was keen to prevent a repeat of the 2017 stage 1 mistake last year, the péloton has been keen to control this for the sprint field.

It's a decent sprint field, mind. As well as Wiebes, who has been one of the revelations of the season, albeit one that almost everybody saw coming, just maybe not quite yet, there is Lotte Kopecky for Lotto, who also podiumed de Panne alongside Wiebes, Nina Kessler in the TIBCO team, Lea Lin Teutenberg looking to follow in her mother's footsteps for WNT, and Lucy Garner for Hitec. There are a few somewhat controversial engines to try to alter things - Olga Zabelinskaya, now representing Uzbekistan, for Cogeas-Mettler, and Hanna Solovey for Lviv. One doesn't really know what to expect from the Asian teams, Ting Ying Huang in 2016 springs to mind with her incredible performances for Taiwan, but though she was able to complete the Giro when she signed for Servetto, trying to race in the poor conditions of classics season was too much for her, and she got a case of the Cobos, and has now disappeared again.

Anyway, the pattern is set. Stage 1 was won in a sprint by Lorena Wiebes ahead of Lotte Kopecky and Nina Kessler - the three best sprinters in the field doing their thing. In stage 2, Wiebes again won, but like I was just saying about Huang, interestingly the Thailand team's Jutatip Maneephan finished 2nd, ahead of Garner and Kessler. Maneephan is a veteran, and has been laying waste to the South East Asian scene for several years - she has eight wins already this season - she's had a couple of brief stints in Europe with the Fanini team, but has struggled to adapt and returned home soon after both times.

Elsewhere, we have the semi-continuation of the Ardennes in the GP Elsy Jacobs, a well-established Lëtzebuergesch race historically in Critérium International format but now spread over three days. Letizia Paternoster won last year's race thanks to a strong ITT and being surprisingly adept at following the moves in the hills, before her Majerus won it on home roads; it has been more a playground for puncheuses before that, with Niewiadoma and two Anna VDB victories preceding that, plus three Vos wins and one for Pooley. Trek aren't here, so no defence of her title for Paternoster, and with no Boels on the startlist and Kasia starting in California for Canyon, that means Christine Majerus is the only former winner on the startlist. She will have to do a lot of the work herself, as she is leading a Luxembourg national team, but one that is also shorn of the second strongest rider from the Grand Duchy, as Elise Maes will be leading the Andy Schleck team.

There are quite a few big teams, but a fair few without any of their biggest stars. For example, CCC will likely see Riejanne Markus as their leader here, Bigla are here with no Cille, who is resting post Ardennes, and BTC are without Eugenia Bujak, for whom this would be the right kind of terrain, you would think. WNT, on the other hand, are going all out for this; they have Brennauer, Wild, Magnaldi and Clara Koppenburg, who surprised everybody on Xorret del Catí a couple of months ago, all in the team, so they are out for victory here. Valcar-Cylance have cyclocrosser and surprisingly strong climber Alice Maria Arzuffi, and adaptable and quick all-rounder Mariu Giulia Confalonieri to contend here, Parkhotel Valkenburg may have aspirations of victory with Ardennes miracle-maker Demi Vollering to lead them; FDJ have a strong team and Emilia Fahlin has made this kind of punchy-but-not-too-punchy kind of terrain her own in recent years; Hanna Nilsson is a very good climber for BTC, but with only four riders starting, will they be able to support her?; and former World Champion Tatiana Guderzo is on site for BePink.
 
Featuring an 850m @ 7,5% climb in the middle, the prologue wasn't an easy one, but the result was still slightly surprising, as although Lisa Brennauer, a major champion in this discipline and specialist in time trials and with a strong sprint, which you'd think would suit this kind of event, set a really strong time, she was a full 6" adrift from the victory, which went to the spectacular breakout story of the season, Demi Vollering of Parkhotel Valkenburg. The seeming puncheuse extraordinaire covered the route in 4'17, relegating compatriot Riejanne Markus to 3rd. Marlen Reusser was 4th, riding for the UCI World Cycling Centre. Clara Koppenburg was at +12", and Emilia Fahlin +13", so they are both well in this battle, as well as Christine Majerus at +16", but with much more chance to take some time in the flatter stage than several of those ahead of her due to her sprint acumen. The circuit at the end of stage 1 tomorrow has a climb of 400m @ 9% on it, but that's a few kilometres out so unlikely to be too decisive. The final day's stage in Garnich has two climbs on the closing circuit, one of 1,1km @ 6%, the other at 1,6km @ 4,5% within a 10km circuit, with a 3km downhill to the line, so this will be where the puncheuses have to come to play.

Edit: Motomedia have full coverage of the GP Elsy Jacobs with Jose Been on commentary duties. Prologue video here.

With the Vuelta a Burgos, we have the development of a bit of a Spanish mini-season, which is quite exciting as obviously the Emakumeen Bira now being World Tour gives a focal point here, and hopefully this can work as there has been a .NE Vuelta a Burgos for a few years but a UCI-rated one and a favourable calendar spot to build a mini-season would be excellent for women's cycling in Spain.

The Vuelta itself has four stages. The first is a figure-of-eight shaped stages around Villadiego with a cat.3 climb of the Alto de Tobar 17km from home. The second stage around Poza de la Sal is pretty traditional Spanish cycling terrain - mostly flat with a cat.3 in there, but some hidden climbing, since the uncategorised stage finish is basically the first 2,5km of Altotero. Stage 3 around Medina de Pomar is likely to be key for the GC, with a HTF at Alto de Rosales (3,8km @ 4,9% officially, but the final 1800m @ 6,8%). The final stage around Villarcayo is in classic Vuelta a Burgos stomping ground, with the key climb being the Alto de Retuerta 19km from the line. This has been the last leadin climb to Picón Blanco since that climb's introduction to the men's Vuelta a Burgos, while Bocos is a classic and Ojo Guareña, the other categorized climb of the day, hosted a HTF in the men's Vuelta a Burgos a few years ago. For the most part the startlist is relatively weak, however Movistar are obviously there in strength along with the rest of the Spanish péloton - Bizkaia-Durango, Sopela, Massi-Tactic and Eneicue - but they've also tempted Canyon-SRAM, BTC City, Alé-Cipollini and BePink, so there could be some useful riders to keep an eye on.
 
3/3 for Wiebes, and it's a Parkhotel festival. Maneephan replicates her 2nd place in stage 2, and Kopecky back on the stage podium as well, No interesting breakaway with the likes of Chursina and Malseed this year, sadly, so Chongming Island is the bonus second extravaganza we know once more. Interesting for Xisha Zhao of the China-Liv team to make it into 4th ahead of Garner and Roy, though.

Over the course of the race, Lorena Wiebes has accrued 41 seconds of bonuses, which is obviously enough to win the race for her (after all, she kind of won all three stages so it would be stupid if she didn't). Every rider from Pascale Jeuland in 10th to Supuksorn Nuntana in 48th are separated only by countback.

Final GC:
1 Lorena Wiebes (Parkhotel Valkenburg) NED 8'26'14
2 Jutatip Maneephan (Thailand Women's Cycling Team) THA +22"
3 Lotte Kopecky (Lotto-Soudal) BEL +27"
4 Nina Kessler (TIBCO-SVB) NED +35"
5 Lucy Garner (Hitec Products-Birk Sport) GBR +37"
6 Marta Tagliaferro (Hitec Products-Birk Sport) ITA +37"
7 Tatsiana Sharakova (Minsk Cycling Club) BLR +38"
8 Maaike Boogaard (BTC City-Ljubljana) NED +38"
9 Valeria Kononenko (Lviv Cycling Team) UKR +39"
10 Pascale Jeuland (Doltcini-Van Eyck Sport) FRA +41"

Wiebes, at 20 years and 2 months of age, becomes the youngest rider to ever win a WWT race, surpassing Amalie Dideriksen who was 20 years and 10 months old when she won the Ronde van Drenthe in 2017. I don't think anybody has even won a stage of a stage race individually at a younger age, though there are some at TTT level (Lippert was 20 years old in Sunweb's TTT reign of terror last year, with the first win being in the Giro at 20 years 6 months, while Labous is even younger, being 19 years 8 months in that Giro. The winner for this category, however, has to be Chloe Dygert, who was 19 years 4 months old when Twenty16 won the TTT at the 2016 Tour of California, albeit that was an absolutely awful race designed around making sure Kristin Armstrong had sufficient UCI points to qualify for Rio).

Rain and suffering in Luxembourg, by contrast, and a three-woman escape that makes it to the line, foiling the anticipated sprint, with CCC-Liv's young Pole Marta Lach (22 later this month) winning just ahead of Bigla's Lizzie Banks, and 18-year-old German Franziska Koch of the Mexx-Watersley team. Banks was at +13", Koch at +15" and Lach +36" after the prologue, so with the five second time gain on the bunch, had Banks won the stage she'd have been a threat to the GC lead. As it was, however, Vollering outsprinted Emilia Fahlin and Christine Majerus to the line for 4th place, opening up a second on the rest of the péloton, to defend that maillot jaune. Demi's lead is cut to just 2 seconds over Banks, with Koch at +6" and Brennauer's deficit increased to 7" ahead of the final stage.
 
34 riders made it to the finish in Garnich together in the final stage, that is proving less selective by the year as the level of professionalism in the bunch increases and also the riders become more accustomed to the climbs. And also, potentially, better understanding of how to manage a breakaway and how to pace a chase, as WNT-Rotor clearly trusted Lisa Brennauer to do her thing for them, and rightly so as she took the stage win ahead of Emilia Fahlin and Maria Giulia Confalonieri - so you can see that this was a tough but not too tough finale, which enabled Fahlin, who specialises in technical and uphill sprints, to mix it up with Confalonieri, who is good in a flat sprint but preferably from a reduced bunch, and Brennauer, who has a strong sprint on the flat but is especially strong after long and hard stages and less so in a pure drag race in a pan flat event. This is the kind of finish which perfectly suits home favourite Christine Majerus (remember her epic winning sprint in Kettering in the Tour of Britain back in the early days, when she should have been the winner on the road but lost out to Brennauer from bonus seconds?), but she could only manage 4th. Yellow jersey Demi Vollering had to settle for fifth, which meant that she can share Majerus' pain - though the TT victory means that she is the winner 'on the road', Brennauer's aptitude for the sprint and the 10" bonus that she gets for the stage win today leapfrogs her into the GC overall victory, overturning the 7" deficit that she had from Parkhotel's former speedskater, to take the final GC. Fahlin's GC deficit was too great for her bonus seconds to pull her to the podium, so Vollering holds on to second place, with Lizzie Banks rounding out the podium, Bigla's best result scored by a rider not named Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig as far as I am aware, besting Julie Leth's 6th place in Brabantse Pijl.

Final GC:
1 Lisa Brennauer (WNT-Rotor) GER 5'53'02
2 Demi Vollering (Parkhotel Valkenburg) NED +3"
3 Elizabeth Banks (Bigla) GBR +5"
4 Franziska Koch (Mexx-Watersley) GER +9"
5 Emilia Fahlin (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope) SWE +10"
6 Riejanne Markus (CCC-Liv) NED +12"
7 Maria Giulia Confalonieri (Valcar-Cylance) ITA +19"
8 Kathrin Hammes (WNT-Rotor) GER +19"
9 Christine Majerus (Luxembourg National) LUX +19"
10 Stine Borgli (Norway National) NOR +20"

There was also a sprint in the Trofee Maarten Wynants, in Helchteren, northeastern Belgium. Not unexpected - it is usually a sprint here, at least after the first two editions (Maaike Polspoel held on just ahead of the bunch in 2014, and Nathalie van Gogh beat a 19-year-old Lotte Kopecky in a two-up in 2015). Previous winners include Vos, Bastianelli and Kopecky, but none were on hand today, with Vos resting post-Ardennes, Bastianelli having some time off after winning Graciá-Orlová, and Kopecky being in China for Chongming Island. With a lot of the World Tour teams sending riders off to California, and the race clashing with Chongming and the GP Elsy Jacobs, there were surprisingly few of the Dutch teams here, which enabled the Italians, that other hub of women's cycling in Europe, to take some continental points. 20-year-old Elisa Balsamo, who won the GP Bruno Beghelli last year and the Omloop van Borsele, beating current belle of the sprints Lorena Wiebes and recently-deposed WWT leader Marta Bastianelli in the process, proved to have too strong a kick for the field here, the Valcar-Cylance rider taking a comfortable win with her compatriot Laura Tomasi in 2nd. Tomasi is also 20 and had four wins last year, but all at the .NE level in Italy, and is riding for Top Girls-Fassa Bortolo. Marjolein van 't Geloof scored her best result since moving to Alé-Cipollini with 3rd, and with Sanguineti - also on Valcar - in 4th, it was down to the Austrian, Kathrin Schweinberger, in 5th to be the first rider not on an Italian team. Those reasonably sized teams in attendance - Alé, Lotto - sent odds-and-sods lineups including mostly their youngsters; likewise I think there are a couple of ringers there - Yara Kastelijn is in the results but is the only CCC rider so I assume she was guesting for somebody else.

Edit: video from the decisive stage of the GP Elsy Jacobs
 
This has the potential to be great. It's obviously an effective second Grand Tour, probably in August I'd assume from the calendar spots of the Ladies' Tour of Norway and of Vårgårda already. Hopefully they include some decent climbing, like a Danish stage in Vejle, a Swedish stage around the old Postgirot Open stomping ground of Huskvarna, and a Norwegian one with Lillehammer or Holmenkollen and similar so that we get some decently varied action. If they can create something that has some genuine climbing, some flat stages, some tough rolling stages, and some steep short ascents, they should be set.
 

ASK THE COMMUNITY