The Women's Road Racing Thread 2021

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Last year was a bit of an anomaly though, and I think the Giro organisers probably somewhat complacently thought they could kick the can down the road a year with the pandemic as an excuse, especially considering much of the race was organised at the last minute (and it showed at times too).

However, the overly-close relationship between Lappartient and ASO is pretty easy to spot, and there have long been murmurings about the way La Course had been running roughshod over the calendar and significant races with long histories like the Thüringen Rundfahrt and Emakumeen Bira being shunted around the calendar was about ASO trying to clear some calendar space if they went down the route of turning La Course into a stage race (as was the rumour at the time). It is also quite insulting to see the media back-patting ASO on what a great move this is for progress when they had resisted it at every turn, and when they were literally the last race organiser to provide proper coverage of their Women's World Tour races - races like the Giro and the Women's Tour (of Britain) had full length and reasonably high quality highlights shows, even if they weren't live, while ASO were fighting tooth and nail to avoid showing the women's Flèche Wallonne, one of the highest prestige one-day races on the calendar, lest we miss any of the excitement of the men riding along in formation 90km from home, and only provided any coverage at all, let alone live coverage, last year (before that we had the UCI-produced summaries only) - and then had the temerity to sell their showing those races as a major advancement.

While some of the organisational issues last year were farcical and the lack of live coverage should have been cleared with the UCI beforehand so at least the Giro's organisers knew what the risks were (it was never made clear what the penalties would be, and considering several races were able to kick the can down the road by cancelling their races, the Giro's organisers are also pointing out - not unfairly - that they are thereby being punished for doing what they could to keep their race afloat), it is worth noting that the Giro Rosa is not organised by RCS. It is organised by a much smaller organisation with certain trademarks under licence, hence why they can be called the Giro, maintain the trademarked jerseys, use the same graphics, fonts and so on. You can say what you will about RCS clearly doing even less than ASO, lending advisory service and licencing certain trademarks only, and that is a fair criticism. But you can therefore see why smaller race organisers might have more trouble securing television commitment. Hell, SweetSpot, who organise the Women's Tour, have had trouble getting live coverage to date, and they're a much bigger concern that organises almost all commercial (i.e. non-BC) pro racing in the UK and has long-established relationships with TV stations that have been carrying their races for a decade. But while RCS obviously aren't contributing much, back a couple of decades ago, this is how much ASO supported women's cycling: just like in Italy, when ASO weren't organising their own tour anymore, a privateer group set up a long-form women's stage race... and ASO sued them because the race included the word "Tour" and the proposed leader's jersey was yellow.

ASO have resisted making any forward progress in women's cycling as long as they possibly could (at least once Jeannie Longo was no longer winning everything in sight, which was the main driving force behind them supporting it in the first place). They got a bit excited to ride the PFP gravy train in the early 2010s, but since she started getting injuries and scaling back her road racing miles, they've been working diligently to find the absolute bare minimum they can get away with, and have been studiously sticking to that while the UCI merrily lets them use their might to run roughshod over historic and traditional races - Bira and Thüringen are two of the oldest races on the calendar, and until it was cancelled for the pandemic last year Bira was the longest continuously-running women's stage race (it has now been somewhat subsumed into the new Itzulia Women, partly to do with EITB's demands more or less killing its viability for the volunteer organisational group), and there is plenty of evidence in recent years of, at least in respect of the women's calendar, the UCI catering to ASO's demands and forcing a lot of smaller races that can't boast the same level of negotiating power to jump to their tune. We're seeing an increasing number of the smaller, amateur volunteer organisations who've kept the sport alive being run from it, in favour of bigger money organisers who have the experience and history from the men's races - which is good in some ways, increased professionalism, relationships with TV companies etc., but it does harm the grass roots and result in a calendar heavily biased toward makeweight races and events where the women's race is just seen as a tack-on to the men's. No organiser has been clearer evidence of this than ASO, yet now they're providing live coverage of the Ardennes classics and announcing they're going to organise a race that people have been demanding for a decade and they've been doing everything they can to resist the calls for, they want us to praise them and congratulate them.

"There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there." - Indira Gandhi.

For as long as I've been following women's cycling, the Giro has been the biggest race. In men's cycling, Liège-Bastogne-Liège is the most important Ardennes classic. In women's, it's Flèche. It's older and more traditional. The Tour has universal recognition value over the Giro over the Vuelta in men's cycling; in women's cycling, the Giro would have that because it's run almost continuously since the 80s, whereas the Tour has a brief heyday, then an acrimonious split, a spluttering along for a decade of races that lose prestige, progressively shrink and then disappear. So there is something of a feeling that either ASO are only jumping in now because the Giro has been weakened, and they can therefore be the big I-am on the WWT because the Giro has lost that status, or ASO have strongly hinted to Lappartient that it would be very nice if a women's Tour de France could be instantly launched as the biggest race in the sport. I wouldn't be surprised to see a WWT race or two - possibly even La Course - placed to run coterminously with the Giro in 2022 to weaken it further. So as a result, I see this as two steps forward, but a fairly hefty one step back.
 
Less contentiously, the Nafarroan classic doublette got underway, listed as though they are a stage race but in fact independent one-day races, somewhat akin to the Challenge Mallorca, over a nice medium mountain course called Emakumeen Nafarroako Women's Elite Classic. Borrowing pieces of the course from the GP Miguel Indurain and from the earlier GP Pascuas, this was, though across the border into Navarra, typically Basque, with nary a flat kilometre to be found.



The continuing vanquishment of all comers by Annemiek van Vleuten in mountainous races continues, as she triumphed for the home concern, Movistar, who are of course based in Navarra; she outsprinted Demi Vollering on the line in part of the ongoing fight over who gets to lead at the Olympics considering how stupidly good all of the Dutch Olympic team are, with Elisa Longo Borghini trailing in just behind because, you know, Elisa and sprinting. A trio just behind consisted of Mikayla Harvey - her first major result of the year with her new team, in the climbing races she loves best - Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, who we know loves this part of the world for racing, and Marta Cavalli, being the top FDJ rider with Cille stuck in group 3 on the road along with the other major climbers like Santestebán.
 
But again, with the Giro organisers actually comitting to live coverage this year - when they have no obligation to - who's to say they won't be reinstated as a WT race from next year?
Giro overlapping with the men's TdF, Tour right after the men's. Could be a good block of racing.
 
But again, with the Giro organisers actually comitting to live coverage this year - when they have no obligation to - who's to say they won't be reinstated as a WT race from next year?
Giro overlapping with the men's TdF, Tour right after the men's. Could be a good block of racing.
That's the ideal, because having two Grand Tours will hopefully spur both on to produce better races and outdo one another, as well as giving a better balance in the calendar and enable greater specialisation as well. My concern is that ASO's conduct throughout has given the impression that they're not interested in playing unless they're going to "win" and therefore the Giro had to take a hit before they would be interested in going in.

I'm genuinely pleased by the calendar slot though. If they can tie it in with a prologue on the Champs on the last day of the Tour to start the race and run in the Route de France's old slot (another long-form mountainous stage race in France that the Tour protected its trademarks from, preventing it from really taking hold) it is a lot like I wished for.

I think the Dakar has been a pretty major factor in this, to be honest. This has been a pet project for ASO in recent years, but with politics making the traditional Paris-Dakar route untenable, increased travel costs and an ever-reducing number of places able to pay to host plus with the required landscape and amenities meant the project was losing money - ASO owning Le Tour is more than enough to keep them going but when you had issues with last minute withdrawals from co-hosts in South America due to political upheaval and economic troubles, the issues with keeping the Dakar afloat have probably meant ASO have been more resistant to gambling on new races, preferring instead to consolidate their ownership of existing known quantities and rake in the money from the big events. The Saudis paying to host the race going forward probably safeguards that endeavour for the near future, enabling ASO to have more freedom for financial risk in their cycling portfolio again, and it may just be coincidental timing (the Dakar had moved to Saudi Arabia before the pandemic hit, taking place in January 2020), but given the last decade of ASO behaviour in respect of women's cycling, I reserve the right to exercise caution in my optimism.
 
I'm genuinely pleased by the calendar slot though. If they can tie it in with a prologue on the Champs on the last day of the Tour to start the race and run in the Route de France's old slot (another long-form mountainous stage race in France that the Tour protected its trademarks from, preventing it from really taking hold) it is a lot like I wished for.
Could that be a thing? Just like the men's Tour always ends with a parade/sprint stage on the Champs, the women's Tour could always begin with a prologue on the Champs.
 
Could that be a thing? Just like the men's Tour always ends with a parade/sprint stage on the Champs, the women's Tour could always begin with a prologue on the Champs.
That was actually my 'ideal' that I mentioned when I did "La Vraie Course" in the Race Design Thread. Maximise audience crossover if at all possible. After all, the final day of the Tour is a parade, and the Champs is already closed traditionally for it anyway. Give the women an iconic shot, coming off the ramp with the Arc de Triomphe in the background. You won't miss any of the actual action in the men's race - you can flick between the two while the men are clinking champagne glasses if you like, then cut to the women for the big names taking their prologue, then they can finish and the men arrive at the circuit, then the presentation of the first women's maillot jaune can precede the awarding of the final maillot jaune in the men's race. That way you can sell it not just to the cycling fan fraternité but to the casual once-a-year fans as well, advertising it as "not had enough of your cycling fix? The women's Tour will keep the racing going"

Then, they could do different point-to-point races to finish in a different major city each year in a Paris-Nice kind of way. My ideas were to have one year travelling east to have a couple of days in the Vosges and finish in Strasbourg, and a race that headed to the Jura and northwestern Alps before finishing in Lyon. You could also travel south into the Massif Central and finish at Clermont-Auvergne, Bordeaux, Avignon, St-Etienne or even head as far as the Pyrenées and finish in Toulouse, or southeast into the Alps and finish at Grenoble, Albertville or even Geneva. The western Massif Central gives you the Cantal massif and the Puys, the eastern side gives you the Ardêche and so forth. Hopefully they could ape what the Giro Rosa was doing a few years ago and give us one-a-year classic climbs from the men's races, so here they could be things like Super-Besse, Côte de la Croix-Neuve or Mont Ventoux in the Massif Central, Le Grand Ballon or (sigh) Planche des Belles Filles in the Vosges, Morzine or Saint-François-Longchamp in the Alps. There would be a lot of options. Plus, given the reduced space commitments for the women's race than the Tour (which itself requires more than pretty much any race) they could utilise smaller ski stations and summits that either have become no longer suitable for the Tour (La-Ruchère-en-Chartreuse for example) or can be test-driven to see if they would be viable as Tour hosts, the same way as the Dauphiné does.
 
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Less contentiously, the Nafarroan classic doublette got underway, listed as though they are a stage race but in fact independent one-day races, somewhat akin to the Challenge Mallorca, over a nice medium mountain course called Emakumeen Nafarroako Women's Elite Classic. Borrowing pieces of the course from the GP Miguel Indurain and from the earlier GP Pascuas, this was, though across the border into Navarra, typically Basque, with nary a flat kilometre to be found.



The continuing vanquishment of all comers by Annemiek van Vleuten in mountainous races continues, as she triumphed for the home concern, Movistar, who are of course based in Navarra; she outsprinted Demi Vollering on the line in part of the ongoing fight over who gets to lead at the Olympics considering how stupidly good all of the Dutch Olympic team are, with Elisa Longo Borghini trailing in just behind because, you know, Elisa and sprinting. A trio just behind consisted of Mikayla Harvey - her first major result of the year with her new team, in the climbing races she loves best - Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, who we know loves this part of the world for racing, and Marta Cavalli, being the top FDJ rider with Cille stuck in group 3 on the road along with the other major climbers like Santestebán.
It looked like CUL had a mechanical just as they were heading onto one of the last climbs, at least she signalled a couple of times but we never saw if she had to change bikes bc confusing / non functioning camera work at times..
 
That's actually really cool of Bottas to do that, I like it.

Ash and Elisa dropping Annemiek on the little muros hidden on the run-in to Pamplona (after the Alto del Perdón) in the Navarra Women's Classic (day 2 of the doublette). Some vomit-inducing camerawork on these partially cobbled descents though. Annemiek catches back on on the descent and she attacks immediately. Niamh Fisher-Black is the big X-factor here as it means SD Worx have two in the group, but they are the weaker two (feels so wrong to be describing Moolman-Pasio in such a way, but Annemiek and Elisa are, well, Annemiek and Elisa). Cavalli and another Trek rider to catch back on, which would mean Trek have two riders as well if they're successful.

Edit: Lucinda Brand is the Trek rider, and they've succeeded in their aim of uniting the front two groups on the way in to Pamplona.

Edit: Pretty useful group chasiinig at the back, but not much cohesion thanks to the presence of Demi Vollering. Elise Chabbey on the front of the chase group as Canyon have missed the group and Mikayla Harvey is feeling strong. It looks like Chabbey is going to unite them - and they have now combined. Around 20-25 riders making up the front group, 4km or so remaining.

Edit: ELB attacks as soon as the chasers catch on! Of course this makes total sense as that group was getting big enough to be a sprint, and Elisa doesn't want one of those. Mavi García the only one to follow.

Edit: Sierra is probably the fastest sprinter in the group. Chabbey pulling once more. Canyon chasing seems odd unless Hannah Barnes is hidden in there somewhere? Now FDJ onto the front to chase, probably for Cavalli. Pulls back the escapees. Annemiek attacks on a short riser with 1300m remaining, Cromwell and Winder chasing her. Last kilometre!

Edit: AVV goes again, on a slight uphill. Winder and Sierra catch on! Final corner... Annemiek leading ouut, there's 2-3 seconds' gap... Sierra wins it by a country mile! Winder 2nd and AVV 3rd.

Edit: Not the best national champions' jersey I've ever seen. It's not even national bands. It's a white jersey with a little Cuban flag on it.
 
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Awful camerawork at the finish, but well done by Arlenis Sierra, although she just sucked herself to Winder's wheel on the hill.
In fairness to Arlenis, this is kind of akin to the kind of thing that other durable fast finishers like Óscar Freire and Giorgia Bronzini used to do, but that would usually be about hiding in the groups of the size of the group before Annemiek broke it. Yes, it was a bit Gerrans-tastic, but she was the obvious favourite in a sprint between the three so the onus was on the others to drop her, and it was only about a kilometre of holding Winder's wheel before the sprint. And given the chances of podiuming from the pack were going to be limited for Winder if she didn't commit to the move, she was stuck between a rock and a hard place. She was too close to the finish to insist Arlenis collaborate, and if she sat up they'd be caught by the péloton. If she works and doesn't catch Annemiek, she comes 2nd at best and most likely 3rd, and if she catches Annemiek, Arlenis almost certainly outsprints her, but that was her only chance of winning - sure it was a small chance, relying on Sierra botching the sprint or getting relegated for an irregular one - but it wasn't impossible.
 
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In fairness to Arlenis, this is kind of akin to the kind of thing that other durable fast finishers like Óscar Freire and Giorgia Bronzini used to do, but that would usually be about hiding in the groups of the size of the group before Annemiek broke it. Yes, it was a bit Gerrans-tastic, but she was the obvious favourite in a sprint between the three so the onus was on the others to drop her, and it was only about a kilometre of holding Winder's wheel before the sprint. And given the chances of podiuming from the pack were going to be limited for Winder if she didn't commit to the move, she was stuck between a rock and a hard place. She was too close to the finish to insist Arlenis collaborate, and if she sat up they'd be caught by the péloton. If she works and doesn't catch Annemiek, she comes 2nd at best and most likely 3rd, and if she catches Annemiek, Arlenis almost certainly outsprints her, but that was her only chance of winning - sure it was a small chance, relying on Sierra botching the sprint or getting relegated for an irregular one - but it wasn't impossible.
Sure, both Sierra and Winder did the right things, and judged by the damage done, it wasn't just easy peasy to follow Winder's tempo either. And Trek didn't have any other cards to play after ELB was caught.
 
Grace Brown needs to have more confidence in her climbing - It was a pointless attack with 19kms to go -Save your energy and trust your ability on the climb - Did this and she may have gone with the late move with AVV, instead of outsprinting Vollering for fourth.
 
Van Vleuten, van der Breggen and Longo Borghini is not a bad front group on Arrate.

And now it looks to be a van der Breggen solo win. She didn't race the other one-day races, so she might be a bit fresher than the rest.
 
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Ojo Guareña HTF on stage 3 - not too difficult, but used in the men's Vuelta a Burgos in 2012 and 2013, won by Daniel Moreno and Jens Keukeleire respectively. Lagunas de Neila MTF on stage 4 (<3) - sadly it looks like it's from the side that has been climbed in recent years in the men's Vuelta a Burgos, along the old road direct from Quintanar de la Sierra, rather than the traditional side from the north which means going over the very gradual Puerto del Collado, descending into Neila and having around 8km @ 8%. This way it's a much longer MTF but not as steep. Stage 1 is also harder than it looks.
 

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