The Women's Road Racing Thread 2021

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So, I've been following the wintersports quite avidly in the last few weeks with this having been an Olympic season and all and haven't been putting quite so much focus as I usually do on the sport of two wheels' early season races this year as a result. As a result, rather than the wintersport season winding down while the bigger early-season classics were going on, it really felt like it was still going on apace, and so I kind of keep an eye on what's going on in cycling and realise, holy crap, we're now three races into the World Tour!

Seems like we've had some good races too - Strade Bianche was, as of course we all know, in horrendous weather that made it both hard and muddy and brought back memories of that epic Giro 2010 stage, and saw strong racing with Longo Borghini strong but hamstrung by a bike problem at an inopportune time, leaving Anna van der Breggen alone at the head of the race and really if there is one woman you don't want to give a comfortable advantage to defend to, Anna is that woman, as with her TT prowess and the fact that she is strong on all terrains, she's inevitably going to be difficult to recapture. Although initiating the attacks suggested Anna was the stronger of the two on the day anyway, Elisa has at least enough TT ability to keep Anna honest. It did also help that Boels of course were then not contributing in the chase group behind, and with some very strong riders thereby getting a free ride it did take some impetus out of the chase as the remainder of the péloton hesitated over how aggressively to push for van der Breggen's recapture. Heading towards the end, Niewiadoma used her climbing strength to escape the clutches of that group and join ELB, but even with the two of them working together, it was too late and by this point Anna's lead had grown too big. Kasia can at least take some solace in the fact that she seems to have worked out how to make the best of the climb through the city to the finish, having had a number done on her there in previous years, most notably by Armitstead in 2016, however it must be said that it was inevitable attacks would come as a sprint between Kasia and Elisa is not a heavyweight clash of the sprint stars, shall we say. This is, remarkably enough, Anna VDB's first ever podium at Strade Bianche, whereas Elisa (1st in 2017, 3rd in 2015 and 2018) and Kasia (2nd in 2016, 2017 and 2018) have all become specialists in the race, succeeding year upon year.

Further back, the group splintered further, with Chantal Blaak - who had been in an early attack but had also then been able to run interference and save energy with her teammate leading the race - winning the race through the city from a chasing quartet of herself, the ever-hardworking Janneke Ensing and two Aussies on the Mitchelton-Scott team, the veteran Amanda Spratt and late cycling convert Lucy Kennedy in the 29-year-old's first World Tour race - she won the Tour de l'Ardêche last year so tough terrain is clearly something she's comfortable with, but to finish 5th in her first World Tour race is a clear statement of intent. The Cervélo duo of Ash Moolman-Pasio and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig were joined by Ellen van Dijk in the next group in before the splintered remains of the field came in piecemeal several minutes down - and only 1/3 of the field managed to make it to Siena on their bikes in the conditions. Truly a day for the tough women. Inevitably therefore Anna took the WWT leader's jersey, while Angelica Brogi of the small Italian Aromitalia team took the WWT U23 jersey - it will be interesting to see the contestants for that jersey this year as the last two seasons it has had an obvious standout candidate - the presence of sufficient stage races harms sprinters' aspirations for it, and in 2016 it was just too easy for Niewiadoma, who took max points from just about every race she entered, while last year Cille took it with a very comfortable lead. The standout talent, you would think, would be Amalie Dideriksen, but with the strength in depth at Boels and the stage racing points, will she get the freedom to pick up the necessary results? Even though she's a former World Champion, you'd think she's got a lot more to contend with in competition in the team hierarchy than the previous winners did, though Deignan's absence obviously helps.

Final hour of coverage here

Speaking of days for tough women, the World Tour moved from Italy up to the Netherlands in the midst of a nasty cold spell, and the roads didn't get much nicer, trading gravel for cobbles and of course "the most rubbish climb in cycling", the mythical VAM-Berg as the péloton took on the Ronde van Drenthe. Many of the specialists in hillier races - Niewiadoma, Longo Borghini and Moolman-Pasio among them - elected not to travel, but van der Breggen did, while this was also the first World Tour run-out of the season for a lot of the sprinters and northern Classics hardwomen, such as Vos, Hosking, Wild, d'Hoore and co.. The race has been lengthened once more - now almost 160km in length, a veritable marathon in the women's calendar - and beefed up with a fourth ascent of the VAM-berg to try to encourage greater selectivity.

It made total sense therefore that the first significant attack of note in the run-in would be from... er... Mavi García in the newly-formed Movistar women's team. This is absolutely not the kind of racing I'd associate with the team, and the roster is mainly about development talents with a more experienced core grafted on top, but she did shake the péloton into action, with Boels, led by the ever-ready Christine Majerus, leading the chase. The big problem that comes with racing on cobbles in terrible weather, however, is that it gets very dirty and very slippery, and the péloton gets very nervous. Lucinda Brand and Chantal Blaak were perhaps the most notable names to get slung to the tarmac as the péloton headed for the climactic sections, but they were also by no means the only ones. The bunch split, and Mitchelton-Scott took over the front group, which numbered around 40, in the hope of keeping the pace high enough to allow d'Hoore to sprint it out. This was women's cycling, however, and so keeping taut control over the péloton for over 30km is a difficult thing to achieve, with so many agitants keen to set up attack moves, counter-attacks and just accelerate the pace more in the hope of favouring their own more durable sprinters over other teams' purer sprinters. The counter-response from Mitchelton was to send Gracie Elvin up the road, but not only did her move not attract much interest from elsewhere, leaving her hanging off the front of the péloton alone, but her advantage was never allowed to exceed ten seconds, meaning that there was seldom any danger of her attack becoming a threat to hold out to the finish as, while Gracie has a good pedigree in this type of event, this has typically been due to her ability on tricky circuits, rolling terrain and short climbs, and less for pan-flat Dutch city circuits. A small group including eventual winner Amy Pieters - so often used in this curveball tactic by Boels last year, as a not-quite-a-sprinter for smaller groups and earlier attacks - was formed, gaining a short amount of time before being chased down by Ellen van Dijk who went up-and-over with - of all people - Jolien d'Hoore in her wheel. Quite why d'Hoore thought this was a more sensible option than the sprint I'm not sure, other than that she may have genuinely been concerned that if anybody in the field was going to solo away from the bunch it would be the venerable time trial deity than is Eleonora van Dijk. More problems with Dutch road furniture and the pace of the field meant crashes put paid to one of the favourites from the group, Lotta Lepistö, who had made the selection and was looking ominous.

It wasn't to be the obvious sprint that we all anticipated though - although it was a sprint it wasn't the one we expected, since Pieters launched from a full 350m out, with Alexis Ryan in her wheel for Canyon-SRAM, and the two somehow pulled out a decent gap. I suspect Pieters, a seasoned pro at this, must have noticed that quite a few of the big guns for the sprint were suboptimally placed going into the final corner so got a pre-emptive move on, and Ryan recognized that this was her best chance to win and went with it. The young American didn't have enough to overcome Pieters, but they did hold on with a decent enough lead from the specialist sprinters behind to save the 1-2 and even get credited with a time gap. Alé-Cipollini continued last year's sprint tactic of including both Hosking and Bastianelli, telling neither to lead out the other, resulting in both getting strong placements, but getting in each other's way in the lead-in. They were, however, able to outsprint Marianne Vos, who led home the first top WT result for Waowdeals, and last year's revelation Coryn Rivera.

The absence of most of the other top points scorers from Strade Bianche meant van der Breggen was not threatened in the WWT leader's jersey, while Sofia Bertizzolo of Astana took over the U23 classification jersey thanks to doubling up on WT races while Aromitalia were not present in the Netherlands.

Which led us on to today's race, the Trofeo Alfredo Binda in Cittiglio, near Varese, and home of the great pre-war campionissimo. It's a hilly race, as you can see from the profile (I've used the lasterketa burua one rather than the official once which only shows you the circuit then tells you how many times they do it at the bottom, so is a bit misleading), although in recent years the descent from the final climb to Orino has proven just as decisive as the climb, such as Evelyn Stevens struggling to stay with Marianne Vos due to problems adapting to where her pedals needed to be for best descending speed, and Jolanda Neff being chased down by Lizzie Armitstead in 2016. For many years victories had been shared between an exclusive Pooley-Vos two woman club, but last year Coryn Rivera shocked everybody by surviving the hills to win.

Having rested through Drenthe week, most of the world's top climbing / hilly race riders were in action, though having fallen sick Anna van der Breggen was not among them, meaning that the Boels team, while still plenty strong enough with a reigning World Champion (Blaak), a former World Champion (Dideriksen) and a former WWT champion (Guarnier) on board, was not quite as untouchable as it had been in previous years, especially when looking at the firepower now stacked up by Canyon, who lined up Ferrand-Prévot, Niewiadoma, Amialiusik, Cecchini, Cromwell and Hannah Barnes, and the ever-improving Cervélo hydra-head of Moolman-Pasio and Ludwig, while Mitchelton had the same Aussie double act that had proven so successful in Strade Bianche and there were strong teams with multiple contenders for Wiggle, Alé and of course Sunweb, what with the defending champion and all that.

Yet again, weather was foul, with rain lashing down, and the péloton was not the most pleasant to be as well as making the already technical descent from the Orino climb into a treacherous waterslide. The péloton was typically attentive to not allow anything too dangerous to go in the early part of the race, but when the four laps of the double-climb circuit began, Canyon decided to test out their multiple-option attack plan, sending Alena Amialiusik up the road. The Belarusian former European Champion is returning from breaking her hip during last year's Women's Tour, but she's an awesome weapon to have back for Canyon, a versatile option and an extremely strong climber. She spent a long time in the attack moves in Strade Bianche too, and the fact she's too dangerous to allow too much rope to will make her into that versatile weapon that will help Kasia and PFP maximise results in a way that especially the former struggled with last year, all too often being isolated against teams like Boels and Sunweb. The only rider to take the bait and go with Alena was the ever-aggressive Ane Santesteban for Alé, though the Belarusian's move did have the intended effect for Canyon - Boels got nervous about the size of the advantage and started to commit riders to the front when it approached the minute mark. On the penultimate ascent of the final climb, they released Meg to bridge across the now heavily reduced gap, accompanied by Małgorzata Jasińska, the distinctive veteran Pole may now be riding for Movistar but she's spent a large amount of her career on Italian teams, and this kind of combative move is precisely her thing, so they made for a very interesting quartet, and the onus was then on Wiggle, Sunweb and Mitchelton-Scott to do the chasing.

It might not have been a task that the teams took on gleefully, but they did at least take it on with gusto, with Sunweb in particular chasing hard. Having been out front the longest, however, Amialiusik communicated to the team that she wasn't feeling good about taking it from there and so Canyon committed their other resources to the chase behind, reuniting péloton and fugitives with 15km to go. And on the final climb, the Universal Laws of Women's Cycling applied. As we know, these Universal Laws include such self-evident truths as "Rule 231: in any given race, the probability of Emma Johansson finishing either 2nd or 3rd will approach 1" and "Rule 186: on any given downhill, Mara Abbott must lose a minimum of 50% of any advantage gained previously, or add a minimum of 50% of any deficit", and one of these rules is, of course, "if the road goes uphill, Katarzyna Niewiadoma must attack". Far be it from Kasia to contravene any of the Universal Laws, and so when the race arrived at the lower slopes of Orino for the final time, the Pole stamped on the pedals and hit the accelerator, with nobody able to answer to her pace. The nearest to doing so was, in fact, somewhat surprisingly Lucy Kennedy, however a bit like with Stevens a few years ago it may be inexperience in road cycling that harmed her in her attempts to chase down the race leader, as she was swallowed back up by the remainder of the péloton on the descent - though this had been trimmed to a mere 8 riders (9 once the Australian was recaptured) by the pressures of responding to the attack. It was a pretty elite group though - Boels had Chantal Blaak and Karol-Ann Canuel, Mitchelton had Amanda Spratt and, obviously, Kennedy, Canyon had Pauline Ferrand-Prévot and Alena Amialiusik although obviously they were not contributing to any chase and Amialiusik had been in the earlier break regardless, while Marianne Vos, Elisa Longo Borghini and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig were flying solo for their respective teams. Noticeably absent, however, was defending champion Coryn Rivera, who hadn't been able to handle the climbing pace this season here, and fell into line with the splintered groups that made up a 40-strong péloton by the race end, a minute back from when Kasia crossed the line, taking calculated risks without being reckless on the descent and holding on for a fabulous solo win - I get the feeling given her skillset that much like Emma Pooley, that is going to be the modus operandi for most of her career triumphs - while Blaaki managed to use rainbow power to outsprint Eddy Merckx for the second place finish. To be fair, I don't think the Canyon duo in the chasers will have had much chance in the sprint anyway, but they were too busy celebrating at the end to try to contest it. This is precisely what PFP and Kasia have been brought in for, the two roomed together back at Rabobank and have good rapport, but also because Canyon had that problem of always having the there-or-thereabouts contenders. PFP on her own was something of a coup signing, but she's had a rough couple of years with injuries and as she transitions back to a fuller road calendar I would anticipate them to be able to wring more results out of her especially as Kasia now doesn't have to worry about being completely outnumbered and outgunned in finales the way she has been the last couple of years (which she's then exacerbated by doing way more work than she should in some situations)...

The absence of Anna VDB and the two podiums from two races entered moves Katie Unknown into the overall World Cup lead for her second stint, after picking up the jersey in the Women's Tour last year only to lose it in the Giro shortly after. She has a sizable lead of 100 over Chantal Blaak, with Vos, van der Breggen and Pieters close at hand - Pieters is the only one with a 100% record though, having not raced either of the Italian races. Sofia Bertizzolo took more strong points in the U23 standings to defend that lead, which she holds ahead of Elisa Balsamo, although again the fact we haven't seen too much racing from Dideriksen, Lippert and the like thus far may be a factor in that. Similarly, the team competition looks at this stage to be a straight head to head between Boels and Canyon, but Mitchelton have picked up some strong points so far considering they have not had Annemiek van Vleuten, their biggest points scorer of the last couple of years, at their disposal yet, plus when that run of flatter races comes the presence of Jolien d'Hoore will be a big boost, while Canyon, having lost Lisa Brennauer who was a very good source of rouleur points, will be putting a lot of responsibility for matching those points onto the Barnes sisters, both of whom are very strong, but this is also Alice's first season at a top level team so they may be wary of overburdening her. Alé-Cipollini are currently in a somewhat surprising 3rd overall, though I suspect they won't be able to keep this up all season as essentially the vast majority of their points come from Hosking, Bastianelli and Ensing, and that is likely to remain the case season-round.
 
After watching all three races I can commend LS for the accuracy of her post - Gotta say watching Kennedy descend from the final climb was like watching Michael Woods - Older rookies joining the peleton who can climb but lose some of their value on the descent - A decent descent and Kennedy finishes second - Looking forward to the main part of the classics season which I feel will be dominated by Van Der Breggen.
 
Re:

Zinoviev Letter said:
I sometimes wonder if posters who complain that a post is too long have ever seen a magazine article or a book. Let me warn you, those things can go on for thousands and thousands of words.
Yes, currently reading The Sellout and re-reading Guns, Germs, and Steel.

Thing is, you don't generally go to an internet forum to read like that. I'm guessing that most go to forums for quick diversions during the course of the day. Also, paragraph breaks make reading easier, even in books and magazine articles.

Edit: I will say that from some other posters, I would just scroll past and not give it a second thought but LS has shown through the years that he often has interesting things to say. And as a known Kasia fan, I was interested to read his thoughts after she finally won.
 
So... "drie"daagse; love how it has the rather misleading 'drie' in the title despite being a brand new one-day race.
Seems like they basically created a new race - a "mirror race" to a male one - and decided that since the men's race is called driedaagse, this will be called driedaagse too, and logic be damned!
:D
 
Well, the big problem for Kasia has always been that, as she herself admits, the way to win is always by attacking, because there are few configurations of a group from which she will be the strongest sprinter (especially now two of the strong riders she could bank on probably beating in a dive for the line, Abbott and Lichtenberg, have retired, leaving only really Longo Borghini since van der Breggen has upped her sprint game), and so for the last couple of years she has needed to be the outright strongest in a group on a decisive climb, because of being outnumbered in endgame scenarios more often than not. At Rabo she was not yet strong enough to be that with any consistency in a field which still included the likes of Pooley and Abbott, and at WM3 she was too often isolated from teammates in select groups and therefore able to be ganged up on, as we saw in each of the Ardennes week races last season when she would repeatedly initiate the attacks, but be unable to shake both Armitstead and van der Breggen; if she shed one, the other would not co-operate until the other caught up, and obviously if one attacked, the other would sit on and make her chase until eventually one of the moves stuck. The Canyon team looks revitalized, and obviously while Kasia being on board is a large part of it thus far, she's not the only factor. We've seen their rouleur corps improving significantly over the last 18 months, Hannah Barnes has become a much more all-round threat, and now resembles more a Lotta Lepistö-type durable competitor, increasing the number of races she can contest, while Alexis Ryan is improving markedly too, and the younger Barnes sister, Alice, shone last year in a smaller team. On the climbing side of the game, they've benefited from introducing a world class grimpeuse in Niewiadoma, obviously, but there's also the returns from injury of Amialiusik, who has looked on her A-game thus far this season and is a very versatile and dangerous rider, and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, whose star may have been on the wane through a difficult few years but is still not that far removed from winning three separate disciplines' rainbow jerseys, and has been looking a lot more like herself since that confidence-boosting podium in Plouay last August; reuniting her with her old Rabo roommate might be beneficial for her mindset and if she's ready to dedicate herself to the road full time again, she's a real threat.

As for the Driedaagse, well, I guess de Panne has dropped its normal race length among the men too anyway, but also there's of course a good old tradition of cycling not sticking to the names (Quatre Jours de Dunkerque, I'm looking in your direction here...)... I'm just miffed that it reflects more the latter stages of de Panne, the dull flat stages along the coast (hopefully the wind will make it tougher, remembering Ina-Yoko Teutenberg's anecdote about her thinly-veiled American mountain-favouring teammate criticising the BrainWash Tour in the Netherlands as being an easy race due to its flatness, and abandoning in tears after being battered in 2015 Gent-Wevelgem level crosswinds all day) rather than the more interesting stages inland to the likes of Zottegem.
 
As was perhaps to be expected, De Panne went to a bunch sprint, with the vast majority finishing on the same time as the winner or with time gaps that indicate they were clearly part of the group but rolling in when either their job was done or once they recognized they had played all the role they could in that finale.

Signalling the beginning of a bit of a stretch of northern Classics racing, this is the first of three straight Flemish races, which will then be followed by a week's respite from World Tour racing and then the Ardennes Triple. The field drawn reflected, however, the flat character of the race, with many of those who we'd expect to show their colours in de Ronde not bothering so soon after the Trofeo Binda, and indeed few of the top WWT performers thus far this season were there, and so Niewiadoma's WWT lead was not in the position to be threatened despite her absence, as nobody close enough to take it from her was competing save for Pieters, who could take it with a win.

For Amy to win this time though was too much to ask, as she rather outfoxed the sprinters to win Drenthe, and that surprise move is the kind of thing you can pull off once, but to do so twice is harder. This time it was much more well-controlled and the fastest flat sprinter of the current era, Jolien d'Hoore, stamped her authority on this one, nudging Chloe Hosking down to 2nd as the Australian continues her run of placements and something of a drought, having won two WWT races in 2016, while Boels-Dolmans manage, even with a bare bones lineup of their least experienced riders, to score a podium thanks to the ever-versatile and ever-hard working Christine Majerus - their two youngest riders, Jip van den Bos and Skylar Schneider, were their only other finishers. Alé's result follows on from last week when Hosking and Bastianelli both sprinted; this week the plan was a bit more coherent, Hosking sprinting while Marta sat up, but while they're getting closer, they're not quite breasting the tape yet...

Perhaps the most intriguing result is Parkhotel Valkenburg's Lorena Wiebes, in 4th place. She only turned 29 last Saturday and was the subject of a tug of love over her signature for this year, eventually snubbing first Vos' Waowdeals lineup and then Sunweb to turn pro with Parkhotel. She's taken some pretty strong scalps here, including the lady she would have been lined up to be backing up, Coryn Rivera, had she taken up the Sunweb offer, and also Lisa Brennauer, who nevertheless scores her first major result for her new team, backing up Wiggle's results which had run the risk of becoming too heavily reliant on Longo Borghini after losing d'Hoore to Mitchelton. Confalonieri, now back in Italy with the Valcar-PBM squad, Sheyla Gutiérrez, Jeanna Korevaar, Tiffany Cromwell and Christina Siggaard round out the top 10.
 
Nov 1, 2016
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Of course Lorena turned 19, not 29. I wouldn't call it a 'tug of love' but I think in the end she's better of at Parkhotel, getting to sprint for her own chances instead of being a domestique on a bigger team. She was European Champion last year in the U19 category and already scored a couple of top 10 placings this year.
 
Aha, yes obviously that was a typo on my part! I agree she's better off at Parkhotel for the time being however.

Today we have Gent-Wevelgem voor Vrouwen, or more accurately Ieper-Wevelgem, the next instalment in the northern arm of the WWT. It's a nice race which is gradually extending as the women's races get tougher as the professionalism increases, now up over the 140km mark.



I like women's Gent-Wevelgem, it is the perfect example of a race which was created before there was a massive push towards this and organically grew to justify its World Tour position and has produced some decent racing in its time.

Historical winners:
2012 Lizzie Armitstead (AA Drink-Leontien.nl)
2013 Kirsten Wild (Argos-Shimano)
2014 Lauren Hall (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies)
2015 Floortje Mackaij (Liv-Plantur)
2016 Chantal Blaak (Boels-Dolmans)
2017 Lotta Lepistö (Cervélo-Bigla)

Typically the race has been contested from a fairly small group of 10-20 in the closing kilometres, either in a sprint of those like Kirsten Wild's win or escaping from that group to win solo like Blaak's or Mackaij's. Last year's was the most tightly controlled edition, with the final group numbering 42 and Lepistö outsprinting other established sprinting names like d'Hoore and Rivera who at the time was contesting the lead of the WWT and in stupendous form which she's been struggling to recapture thus far this season.

There are only 6 obstacles in the women's race, three climbs which are undertaken twice as part of a circuit, and three Ploegstraten which are undertaken once between the two sets of climbs. The climbs are the Baneberg, Kemmelberg and Monteberg, with the distances from the climbs to the finish the same as in the men's race, so essentially the difficult part of the course is the same as the men but without the detour into France at the beginning of the obstacles.

Who's here? Well, we've got a significant number of top level sprinters, of course, that the rouleuses will want to stay away from, and a lot of women who'll be up for some hard Classics racing, so this should be a good one.

For starters, Cervélo have gone with the full on A team to back up the defending champion, with Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, Ann-Sophie Duyck and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig all at Lotta' disposal and all capable in their own right. Ash can make any climbing selection, Duyck has flat power to burn and Cecilie won the U23 jersey by a ridiculous margin last year thanks to her versatility. The ever-overpowered Boels are led by 2016 winner Chantal Blaak, who will of course be clad in rainbows as a permanent reminder of her credentials for tough races with short climbs in them, and they have options to burn, with 2016 WWT winner Megan Guarnier on hand too, as well as Amy Pieters being on great form having won the Ronde van Drenthe on similar terrain, Amalie Dideriksen being a former World Champion who is still improving and who won Drenthe last year although has not really shown much form so far this season, while Christine Majerus and Jip van den Bos will both likely be utilized in domestiquing capacity here, but both have strong sprint finishes on them and especially Majerus could prove difficult to shake off should she make a final selection. Mitchelton-Scott have Jolien d'Hoore coming directly from her win in de Panne, and looking to go one better than last season's second place; while de Panne was completely and utterly flat so mightn't be the best form guide for how she does over the hills here, she's more than capable of getting over them when she needs to in a race profile like this, and she does have some useful helpers like Gracie Elvin and the team have a backup sprinting/rouleuse option with Sarah Roy. Plus, they have only the second European run-out of the year for the evergreen and ever-popular Annemiek van Vleuten, who will probably be targeting the Ardennes but is a very strong time trialist who may want to test her legs here.

Alé-Cipollini are also a very good shout to go well, as they go in force to Ieper with their omnipresent dual sprinting threats of Chloe Hosking and Marta Bastianelli. This tactic may not have yielded them too many wins and the two have got in each others' way at times, but they do ensure a steady stream of top results, supplemented by the aggressive Janneke Ensing. Canyon rest the climbing arm, so no defence of the WWT jersey from Kasia, no Pauline, no Alena, but the team nevertheless looks strong with both Barnes sisters - presumably Hannah to be the plan A sprint option, but Alice is plenty capable especially if the race gets more selective - and Alexis Ryan, 2nd in Drenthe, as a backup option for a larger group and Elena Cecchini to use her racing brain and leave the team with a threat if it gets more selective, since she's one of the smartest tactical racers out there. Lisa Klein has a finish on her too and decent TT prowess, while Trixi Worrack is Trixi Worrack, the veteran German will therefore attack repeatedly because that's what Trixi Worrack does.

Of the other super-teams, Sunweb are here in force as well, going all out with just about their strongest lineup, in which nearly everybody is a threat. Coryn Rivera was on the podium here last year and is looking to lay a marker down after a disappointing start to the season, while Leah Kirchmann can make many selections such as we will likely see here. Ellen van Dijk is a rouleuse superstar and Lucinda Brand has a fast finish and a great tactical mind and I would expect her to be prominent in a race like this. And I haven't even mentioned the woman that has won this race before, Floortje Mackaij, yet. Wiggle will presumably want to contest this for another former winner, Kirsten Wild, though they do have Lisa Brennauer as a strong backup, since she's a former TT World Champion with a very impressive sprint, which gives her two of the key skills needed here, and her performances on short cobbled hills at races like Thüringen show her to be very much the kind of rider that can threaten here. Elisa Longo Borghini and her twin are both here as well.

From the teams that are perhaps not super-team status, though, there are still threats to be had. For a start, Eddy Merckx is on the startlist for Waowdeals, who also have the combative Koster and the improving Markus. Astana have Arlenis Sierra, capable of strong placements over a variety of distances and surfaces and a revelation last year. BTC City-Ljubljana have surprise WWT race winner Eugenia Bujak who can definitely compete in a sprint from a group, though it is also true that there are more likely to be names that can best her in a sprint here than in a hillier race like Plouay; outsprinting the likes of van Vleuten and Niewiadoma isn't the same as outsprinting the likes of Hosking and Lepistö. Cylance have the evergreen Giorgia Bronzini, former double world champion of course, and Sheyla Gutiérrez, top 10 last year and capable of strong results in both the Madrid Challenge and the Giro dell'Emilia. Hitec Products have Nina Kessler, veteran of many a sprint in races of this kind of profile, albeit of somewhat shorter distance, FDJ have Roxane Fournier, while there are capable finishers in some of the smaller teams as well - Eva Buurman at Drops, Maria Giulia Confalonieri at Valcar-PBM, Barbara Guarischi at Virtu and the now comparatively spread-out Druyts clan as well as Thalita de Jong in the local Belgian teams.
 
Over the Kemmelberg, it's Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio setting the main tempo, with some help from Megan Guarnier. The two of those, Elisa Longo Borghini, Marianne Vos, and the group is trimmed to a little under 20, another group of 15 or so including Chantal Blaak and Jolien d'Hoore fighting to rejoin before the Monteberg. Nobody helping Gracie Elvin to make the connection because most of them have teammates up front and don't want d'Hoore to make the junction. Third group, led by Alé for Chloe Hosking, a few more seconds further back heading into the Monteberg. Boels now pulling at the front on Monteberg, they have three riders in the group, Guarnier, Pieters and Blaak. Majerus is doing a splendid job roadblocking the Alé group by placing herself second wheel and refusing to come through. I note Sierra, Gutiérrez, Vos all in the group, two Alé riders so suspect they've got Ensing and maybe Bastianelli in the group, though maybe not Marta as then they would be less determined to chase back for Hosking I guess. Haven't seen Lepistö in the group yet but assume she must be there as Ludwig has gone to the front with van Vleuten to pull.

Wiggle now helping Alé to pull as chase groups 2 & 3 reunite, and so it may well all come back together, which would be a shame. Lots of little attempts to get away, Anouska Koster the most recent attempt, but it looks like too many people are invested in the sprint for any solo type escape. Coryn Rivera of all people has been playing monitor as has Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio so this is probably one where realistically you need 5-6 people going up the road and working together to have an impact... although as soon as I say that Rozanne Slik manages to squeeze away on the opposite side of the road and quickly builds a nicely-sized advantage approaching 30 seconds. The lead isn't really enough to genuinely threaten the victory with the long and straight run-in, but it's more of a gap than I thought people would pick up. Sunweb and Boels along with Anouska Koster upping the pace at the front to try to prevent the Hosking group reconnecting, as it seems to be splintering. Quite a few people being tailed off as Slik is pulled back, it's falling apart in some wind, d'Hoore struggling at the very back of the group as Guarnier and Rivera are pushing at the front. Wild and Gutiérrez definitely dropped, at least one of the Alé sprinters is absent as they only have two in the group, and one of them is Ensing.

The gap is going up, now 40" between the two pélotons, looks like Lotta has not made the selection, and Cervélo have disappeared from the front of proceedings. Around 30-35 in the group, it now looks like Canyon only have Barnes and maybe Cecchini, looks like Alé and Waowdeals had got confused earlier as it could well be that Chloe Hosking is there as well as Bastianelli. Wiggle have dropped everyone from the group to try to pull Wild back.

Getting a few small accelerations to try to get away here in the final ten kilometres with the cross-tail-wind, looks like Leah Kirchmann with one of the Cervélo riders, pulled back and now another Sunweb attack this time monitored by Boels. Boels have numbers and plenty of people who can anchor a move, Sunweb seem to not fancy the sprint, Coryn Rivera isn't feeling it and she's now dropped. Blaak & van Dijk attempt a move but it's only tentative and they settle back into the group. Majerus attacks with van Vleuten, now Mackaij. Lots of moves now. Blaak again, chased again by a Mitchelton rider. A very convincing attack from Boels on the left - either van den Bos or more likely Pieters, Barnes and some Sunweb riders coming up to join her. Van Dijk attacks on the bike lane to try to escape. Boels and Moolman-Pasio very quick to shut that one down. Hosking has hidden well since the split and now we're into the final kilometre...

Looks like Bastianelli has it, Hosking led her out, FINALLY Alé decide to actually favour one sprinter, and reap the rewards from the two working together rather than independently!!! She powered home just ahead of d'Hoore. D'Hoore had the lead, but she had to go too early and lost out toward the end. Lisa Klein takes 3rd for Canyon-SRAM, just pushing past what looked like Arlenis Sierra and Amalie Dideriksen at the end.

Edit: Pieters, not Dideriksen.

1 Marta Bastianelli (Alé-Cipollini) ITA 2'38'47
2 Jolien d'Hoore (Mitchelton-Scott) BEL +st
3 Lisa Klein (Canyon-SRAM) GER +st
4 Arlenis Sierra Cañadilla (Astana) CUB +st
5 Amy Pieters (Boels-Dolmans) NED +st
6 Hannah Barnes (Canyon-SRAM) GBR +st
7 Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervélo-Bigla) RSA +st
8 Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Wiggle-High5) FRA +st
9 Barbara Guarischi (Team Virtu Cycling) ITA +st
10 Letizia Paternoster (Astana) ITA +st
 
As we count down to the Ronde van Vlaanderen, the 1.1 Dwars door Vlaanderen women's race took place today, over a little under 120km between Tielt and Waregem. The distance from these to the Vlaamse Ardennen does make for a slightly disappointingly straightforward women's route compared to the men's, but there's still a few half decent obstacles. The Kluisberg, Knokteberg, Vossenhol, Holstraat and Tiegemberg are the climbs, while Varent and Heerlegemstraat are the kasseistroken. Because of the key position in warmup for the Ronde, there was a pretty decent field, as a number of those World Cup presences who had been in Italy and had therefore missed de Panne, Gent-Wevelgem or both looked to get a bit of a Flemish tune-up to get themselves back used to those horrible Flemish roads that have given the sport such romance and history.

The race really got going on the Knokteberg when the 'break of the day' of Gloria Rodríguez, Tetyana Riabchenko and Vita Heine was swallowed up and a group of 7 elites was formed, led by perennial aggressive climbing favourites Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and Kasia Niewiadoma, accompanied by the Dutch armada of Amy Pieters, Ellen van Dijk, Floortje Mackaij and Annemiek van Vleuten, and a second Pole, Małgorzata Jasińska - soon to be joined in the descent by a third Polish rider, Eugenia Bujak of BTC. It was an intriguing mix, because with Boels once more doing what in football would be called "playing the kids", the usual juggernaut was derailed and there was only one team - Sunweb - who had two riders in the group, with everybody else fending for themselves. It also looked to generate an interesting outcome as the race has often ended in a sprint, and indeed last year's first UCI-rated edition was won in a reduced finish by Lotta Lepistö, but the frontrunners had plenty of experience in dealing with Dwars - Amy Pieters had won three editions of it as a national calendar race, in 2015 she even won ahead of Mackaij.

The Sunweb duo raced the closing kilometres perfectly, saving energy and then forcing the opposition to chase them down. And when the elastic snapped, the pair were in the right configuration - van Dijk, the better time trialist of the two, was away solo, and Mackaij, the better sprinter of the two, had the free ride. And really, you do not want to be fending for yourself and trying to chase down Ellen van Dijk because, well, you will fail - she's one of the world's most formidable TT engines, and she was able to take it all the way to the line, eventually gaining almost a minute on the despondent chasers, though Amy Pieters did beat Floortje in the sprint for 2nd to take a little bit of shine off Sunweb's day - nevertheless an all Dutch podium. For Annemiek, Ash and Kasia this is probably mission accomplished for the day in fairness, while back in the bunch the sprint for the minor places was won by one Scandinavian youth phenom (Susanne Andersen) ahead of another (Amalie Dideriksen).

1 Ellen van Dijk (Team Sunweb) NED 3'30'24
2 Amy Pieters (Boels-Dolmans) NED +55"
3 Floortje Mackaij (Team Sunweb) NED +st
4 Eugenia Bujak (BTC City-Ljubljana) POL +st
5 Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) NED +st
6 Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervélo-Bigla) RSA +st
7 Małgorzata Jasińska (Movistar Team) POL +st
8 Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) POL +st
9 Susanne Andersen (Hitec Products) NOR +1'47"
10 Amalie Dideriksen (Boels-Dolmans) DEN +st
 
So it's here.



Ronde time. One of the most long-standing of the women's Classics, edging up past the 150km mark, de Ronde is one of the most prestigious races, owing to being one of the very first of the major races to introduce a women's version that was able to stand alone as an event that riders wanted to win as well as as a part of the ongoing tour series - the World Cup, World Tour etc..

Like the men's race, the course has varied over the years, although unfortunately that huge amount of space between the Kapelmuur and the next serious obstacles does run the risk of, like last year, neutralizing the moves that were made on the first set of climbs of the day but because of the distance until the next obstacles not incentivizing too much in the way of action in and of itself, with riders being content to force a selection. Hopefully this is not the case. Last year, the first real moves came with the Kruisberg, which forced the initial break group, but it was Ellen van Dijk not being able to stay with this on the Oude Kwaremont that settled the race in the end, with her considerable flat-road power being put to use not in keeping the front group away but in the chase for her in-form sprinting teammate Coryn Rivera while the front group played tactical games with one another. The sprinters therefore will have their hopes that they can impact the race similarly, but also the others - especially those for whom there are not many groups they would feel comfortable coming to the line with - like Elisa Longo Borghini, for example, though she doesn't race tomorrow - will likely have that day's run-in etched in their memory and resolve not to make the same mistakes again.

As you would expect from such a prestigious classic, the lineup is pretty stellar. Rivera returns to defend, with fellow North American durable sprinter/hilly rider Leah Kirchmann and four Dutchwomen by her side at Sunweb, with only really Julia Soek here as a 100% helper, since Brand, van Dijk and Mackaij are all genuine threats, although Lucinda hasn't got quite back up to speed just yet. Rivera's season hasn't really kicked on yet but she's been top 10 in sprints in Drenthe and Omloop so she shouldn't be underestimated either. Boels rather miraculously don't field any former winners of the race (!) though Chantal Blaak has been on the podium of the last two editions and has the rainbow stripes to buoy her. Van der Breggen has also previously podiumed the race, back in 2015, while Pieters is on great form, Dideriksen is a former World Champion, Guarnier is a former World Tour winner and Majerus is possibly the more likely of the latter three to actually win the race...

Mitchelton are led nominally by d'Hoore but I suspect that's more because she's Belgian than because they legitimately think she's a better chance of winning than Annemiek van Vleuten, who won back in 2011. But then again, Jolien was 2nd in 2015 winning the sprint behind ELB so she can potentially make it if moves are caught and racing is tentative until late on - especially if Annemiek is up the road enabling her to get a free ride in the chase. However, she wasn't climbing too well in Gent-Wevelgem, in which case the team also has Gracie Elvin as a backup, she is a hard worker who likes this terrain and she was 2nd last year. Sarah Roy is also more versatile than we previously thought until last summer... Cervélo nominate Lotta Lepistö as the leader, which suggests they're hoping for a repeat of last year, and Lotta is getting more durable season by season, the Finn has been very quiet thus far this season though. Moolman-Pasio has been more active but will need to reduce the bunch - though she has a good sprint on her if she burns off the legitimate sprinters with her attacks on the hills. And Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig is a good bet for a good placement, she regularly places well but has yet to convert it to podiums and wins, but she's still young and improving, plus her mood will be improved by the return of her friend Marie Vilmann from a long term injury.

Canyon are super strong too, Elena Cecchini is the nominal leader and she fits well astride the two tactical points for the team; the "we need to make this race tough in the climbs" side of the team is represented by PFP and Niewiadoma, the former of course has the offroading skills too but both will likely want to make the difference on the climbs. The "we need to make this race tough on the flats" side is represented by Hannah Barnes and Lisa Klein, both of whom showed good form in Gent-Wevelgem but will need to ramp it up a level on the additional obstacles of de Ronde. Wiggle, as mentioned, are shorn of their best chance of a win, 2014 winner Elisa Longo Borghini, so will likely be hoping for Kirsten Wild to survive, which would need the weather to play ball to give her a good selection to hit the climbs with to not get dropped by them, or some tame racing on the climbs coupled with good form for the veteran powerhouse, or for Lisa Brennauer to use her rouleuse strength to best effect. Waowdeals will likely be all about Vos; Rooijakkers is a decent climber, Markus has decent speed at a finish, and Koster has both plus an eye for combativity, but realistically it's all for Vos. The problem is, on this season's evidence none of the team is a van Vleuten à la the old Nederland Bloeit days, and Vos isn't quite the unstoppable force she once was. It's taken her a bit of time to get used to having to win by tactics rather than just winning as and how she chooses.

Of the perhaps less obvious teams to supply the winner, you'd think Alé would want a sprint with Hosking and Bastianelli in attendance - probably Marta owes Chloe one after being led out to victory last week - but simultaneously Janneke Ensing will want to make it tough as well. For BTC, Eugenia Bujak was going very well in Dwars door Vlaanderen midweek, and she has a fast finish, Małgorzata Jasińska for Movistar also was there when it counted in Dwars but doesn't have the fast sinish; Hitec have the young phenom Susanne Andersen who also went well in Dwars and has a fast finish, though unlike the two Poles she didn't make the ultimately decisive selection. Sofia Bertizzolo is still in contention for the U23 jersey, as well. And you never quite know when a Thalita de Jong, or a Rossella Ratto, may emerge from their current quiet states. And Rasa Leleivyte always seems to rear her head at the bigger events, though she tends to go best in Italy.
 
...after the Muur, d'Hoore wants me to eat crow as she's up at the front in a sextet with Majerus, van Dijk, Niewiadoma, Moolman-Pasio and Brennauer. Six riders from six different teams there. There's no cooperation though with the long rolling section until Kanarienberg, so van der Breggen and Rivera are coming back and the splintered remains of the bunch should make contact too before long.

...and they do. Group numbers around 25-30. Includes all of those mentioned above plus Hannah Barnes, PFP, Cecchini, Bujak, Mackaij, Guarnier, Wild. Canyon have four, which looks very strong. Boels and Sunweb at least three each too.
 

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