The Women's Road Racing Thread 2021

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Re:

lemon cheese cake said:
Why's the Thüringen Rundfahrt taking place this early? It's normally in July isn't it?
Yep, but ASO moving La Course to mid-week nearly killed it last year. They'd done all this preparation work for their 30th anniversary edition, only to then be told they'd have to sacrifice half the field quality for ASO's big plans, even though they weren't allowed to know what ASO's big plans were until it was announced as when the provisional WWT calendar for 2017 came out, La Course was still on the Sunday. Of course, ASO's whims have changed once more, but they've moved to what they feel to be a safer spot on the calendar, as there's a nice build into the Women's Tour (which, parcours-wise, has more resemblance to Thüringen than the Giro did) and a spot in the middle of stage race season after Bira.
 
The Women's Tour starts this week, sponsored as before by OVO with its rather plush looking green jersey. As one of the best supported and best organised races on the calendar this one ought to be good, not sure what time the highlights are out this year (last year's were relegated to late night, which was a shame) but the race has seemingly caught on and as ever the Britons are very good at turning out a crowd for a bike race at present, which has made the race an instant hit on the women's calendar.

Last year's race was a bit of a strange one in that a bit of lethargy and presumption in the bunch led to a near 2 minute breakaway being attained on stage 1 by a climber on the flattest stage, then defending her lead on the hilly stages despite the team's depleted resources. While it was nice to see Niewiadoma pick up her first WWT win, and her attitude and riding went down well with the supporters of the race, it was rather over-sold as an emergence from somebody who was already one of women's cycling's elite talents. Nevertheless, I'm not going to bewail more attention for the women's game or a win for a rider who has been among my favourites throughout her career and especially now that my long term favourites Pooley and Häusler/Lichtenberg are retired.

Like last year, the first stage is flat, returning to the East Anglian heartland that supported the race at its inception, and finishing in Southwold. This small town hosted the grand départ in 2016 and is the home of Adnams, which is one of the race's sponsors, which is why they're going there. There is an innovation, though - they've moved from awarding two GPM points per stage, regular as clockwork and not always at the toughest points, to a more nuanced, 'normal' system of awarding points per the difficulty of the climbs, so there's only one categorized climb in this stage, unsurprisingly given how pan flat the region is (and that climb is a bit of a joke, it's not quite as bad as the official profile - more like 3% than 1,5% - but still pretty much not worth categorizing other than to give the QOM jersey sponsors a reason to show). I'd say expect a sprint (other finishes in East Anglia have always been sprints) but there's always the possibility of a technical run-in and also, of course, remembering stage 1 last year, though I'm sure the péloton will be wiser to that this year.

Stage 2 moves into the East Midlands region, running to Daventry, which again has history as a départ town, being the start of last year's stage 1. It's mostly flat to rolling, but it features a long loop around the town which culminates in an ascent of Newnham Hill, which the official profiles tell us is 1,6km @ 5,2%, cresting 2,3km from the line. They ascend it twice, once around 35km from the finish and once immediately beforehand, so this is a chance for punchy riders to make some early time gaps, which has in earlier editions not always been the case.

Stage 3 is the longest, at over 150km (the average stage distance in this race is above the UCI's mandated 120km, which itself was an improvement on the old 100km, so they've obviously got some dispensation for it), and is a direct copy of last year's stage 3 which was won by Chloe Hosking despite numerous attempts to break things up and threaten Niewiadoma from other teams. Edge Hill is the main challenge, 800m at 10%, 37km from the line, there's a longer but more gradual follow up climb, but the run-in is fairly straightforward.

Stage 4 is the first to introduce two new stage towns, Evesham and Worcester, as we continue westwards into the West Midlands area, closer to the border between England and Wales. There's a couple of climbs but they're far from the finish and this one is likely to end up a sprint.

Stage 5 is the shortest, all in North Wales and, if I'm totally honest, a huge disappointment as a much tougher stage could have been had in this area. Nevertheless, if any climby types want to make a difference, they'll need to do it here since apart from Newnham Hill they haven't been given too many chances to get away. Stage 3 offers opportunities but they'll need to commit to the move and probably have a bit of help, in order to distance the sprinters sufficiently. Here, the sprinters may well struggle given we have a 7km climb at just under 5% with some serious inconsistencies, 50km from home, but there is an uncategorized ramp around 10km from home that may be needed to be used if bonus seconds aren't enough to settle it.

Overall, it's an OK route, but there's not a massive amount to enthuse the climby types. Then again, it's not like last year was a veritable 2013 Giro Rosa either, and it was won by a grimpeuse, so who knows? Certainly Canyon are of the opinion they can win this with climbers, sending their full trifecta of escaladoras, with defending champion Kasia Niewiadoma pinning on bib #1 and ably assisted by Pauline Ferrand-Prévot and Alena Amialiusik. After a fantastic duel over the best British rider jersey last year, the two Barnes sisters line up as teammates instead this year, and could be GC candidates if the team's bid to win it by outclimbing the opposition proves fruitless. Lisa Klein rounds out the lineup, the young German can sprint, can time trial and can work, and likes racing in Britain, having had a successful introduction to the Women's Tour last year.

Boels-Dolmans, however, disagree, and think they will have to win this with rouleuses, in the absence of Lizzie Deignan. Chantal Blaak brings the rainbow stripes as team leader since van der Breggen is resting, and the team brings a full complement of its classics team - Amy Pieters, Amalie Dideriksen, and perennial Women's Tour podium rider Christine Majerus, having won a stage in 2 of the last 3 seasons and finished on the GC podium of 2 of the last 3 seasons too. Anna Plichta and Jip van den Bos complete the lineup, Jip now moving into the role that Amalie had a couple of years ago when she was a breakout helper in Armitstead's GC triumph.

Sunweb agree with Boels, and their lineup is formidable. Coryn Rivera is the nominal leader, having worked her way into form in Thüringen, but realistically any of their team (bar possibly Soek who will be a domestique I anticipate) is a genuine threat to win. Lucinda Brand, Ellen van Dijk, Floortje Mackaij, all are capable. Leah Kirchmann hasn't quite been at the level of a couple of years ago for a bit but if she can recapture that she's dangerous, especially in stage 2.

The other super-team, Wiggle, are dividing their goals in two, between stage goals with Kirsten Wild, and the GC with Elisa Longo Borghini, and keeping Thüringen Rundfahrt GC winner Lisa Brennauer as a happy medium between them, the German of course won the race outright in 2015, and is capable of picking up time bonuses with her sprinting prowess - and not much of this parcours is tough enough to drop her if she's on the same form she was a week ago. And the team has some mighty help for the flat lands too with track convert Annette Edmondson, upcoming prospect Katie Archibald (who also comes from distance track), and The Best Damned Female Domestique In The World Audrey Cordon-Ragot.

Cervélo are resting 2016 podium rider Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, for whom the parcours is less than ideal, and so instead are likely to be stagehunting around Lotta Lepistö, although we all know Cille is capable enough of doing a good GC in a hilly race. Ann-Sophie Duyck adds power. FDJ are presumably looking for Fournier in the sprints, with Gillow out, but Kitchen could do an OK role in the hills (her best performances are a while ago now though) and Rozanne Slik did win an interestingly tough stage in Thüringen. For Cylance a lot will depend on which Rossella Ratto shows up - though they'll have a presence in the sprints especially if they're reduced, with Gutiérrez and Bronzini. Annemiek van Vleuten, like Moolman-Pasio and van der Breggen, skips the race as it doesn't fit with her Giro preparation, so Mitchelton are likely to prefer to crystallise around Jolien d'Hoore's sprint weapon, though Sarah Roy has good history on this kind of course and Gracie Elvin will seldom die wondering.

Plenty of other strong riders around though. Not least a Certain Miss Marianne Vos (© Phil Liggett) who has of course won the GC here before and races that allow for reduced sprints with a bit of smaller sized hilly finale action are going to be right up her street, especially with a good backup team including some decent climbers (Rooijakkers and Stultiens) and some motivated rouleuses (the returning Anouska Koster, and Dani Rowe on home roads). Alé also shore up a very strong sprint field by bringing both Bastianelli and Hosking, while even in the smaller teams there are some genuine threats - Drops' Eva Buurman was in great form over similar kinds of terrain in Thüringen, Hitec have Nina Kessler to mix it up in the sprints and nascent superprospect Susanne Andersen, BTC have Eugenia Bujak who has won WWT races before over a similar finish to stage 2 and the impressive young puncheuse Nastya Iakovenko, who was top 10 in Flèche Wallonne and both Plumelec/Morbihan races, Virtu have Guarischi and Moberg, neither of whom are shy of mixing it up in the sprints, and Valcar-PBM have the versatile Maria Giulia Confalonieri.

It's a very strong lineup and the mix between teams in their thoughts on how to approach it should hopefully lead to intrigue...
 
http://www.cyclingnews.com/races/ovo-energy-womens-tour-2018/preview/
After conflicting events at the Amgen Women's Tour and Emakumeen Bira in May, the Women's WorldTour (WWT) resumes this month with the OVO Energy Women's Tour from June 13-17 in Great Britain. For the fifth edition of the race, organisers SweetSpot promised an increased prize purse by three-fold to €90,000.

This year's general classification winner will earn €14,460, the same as the winner of the men's Tour of Britain, while stage sums will also be equal to those offered during the men's stages.
Good for them! :) Get them on TV too.
 
Well, in fairness to the Women's Tour, they do get a full one-hour highlight package and the coverage provided is top draw with excellent graphics, helicam footage and everything required to convince you that the race is a big deal (I've often maintained that making the race look like a big deal is a big part of making it a big deal - the fact so many women's races can't afford the big game graphics and helicopters in their short footage puts them at a level with the lower category men's races in the audience's mind, whereas the Women's Tour's highlights packages include rider profiles, interviews, and the same production given to the men's Tour of Britain which helps the race look good externally, making it attractive to sponsors. The crowds are always a plus point as the Britons love to turn out to a bike race at the moment.

I wish there was live coverage too, but I find it difficult to be too critical of the organisers for the coverage they do put out, other than that the host channel relegated them to late night last year, I think they're in a better time slot this year again though. If they could baby-steps it to try to push for live coverage that would be great, like the Emakumeen Bira does where they've been extending the highlights footage and then broadcasting the final day live for the last couple of seasons, that might be a way for them to persuade the broadcasters to extend it out.

Anyway, the race began today, and if I'm honest I'm not so sure live coverage would have helped this particular stage out too much as it seems this one was fuel to the fire for the "women's cycling is boring" crowd as little of note happened until the final sprint, save for a solo breakaway through a technical section from Susanne Andersen of Hitec Products, helping the beleaguered team get some airtime. We've seen countless similar men's stages of course, especially in this region as East Anglia has become one of Britain's most cycling-supportive regions after Yorkshire - since first bringing the men's Tour of Britain into the area in 2010, the men have been in the region in 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2017, and the women have raced through the area in 2014, 2015, 2016 and now 2018. Unfortunately, the region's geography is such that it makes Denmark look like Norway, so sprints have dominated.

There was further reason to believe that the sprinters would prevail today too - the péloton made a dreadful miscalculation in the first stage last year (well, dreadful for them. As a known Niewiadoma fan and a dyed-in-the-wool critic of flat stages, I was perfectly happy with the outcome) that led to the GC being settled on day 1, leaving the sprinters with fewer chances than anticipated to make a difference and everybody not named "Katarzyna Niewiadoma" with an uphill struggle (against somebody who's very good at going uphill) to overhaul the GC. As a result, nobody was in the mood to let even the not-especially-threatening attacks go (after all, who'd have thought a climber riding away 50km from home in a flat stage would be so dangerous?) and so the bunch held everybody on a tight leash, also enabling some battling at the intermediate sprints, with bonus seconds being taken by Dani Rowe (interesting to see her sprinting for Waowdeals instead of Vos, though it is of course her home race) and Coryn Rivera, but most notably 5 seconds being collected by Amy Pieters. All of those are capable of getting over a few obstacles (well, in Coryn's case obviously since she's won the Trofeo Binda) so this kind of accumulation could be crucial in the long run.

When the sprint did come (inevitably), it was a fairly straightforward one. The course was a much safer run-in than the last time the Women's Tour was in this part of the UK (the Norwich finish with about 11 corners in the last kilometre in 2016, which caused carnage and all time gaps were annulled, though did lead to some intrigue with a solo breakaway staying until only 150m from home), and when the riders arrived at the seafront they took a right and faced a slight headwind on a slight uphill to the line. It's the kind of finish that favours the power sprinters, but Kirsten Wild, perhaps the most powerful of all, was hampered by a lack of teammates in the group so it fell to Jolien d'Hoore, arguably the strongest sprinter on the startlist but with her form a gigantic question mark given it was her first race back from a collarbone break (only three weeks ago!), to force the issue, driving home comfortably ahead of Marta Bastianelli and Coryn Rivera; the American looks to be getting up to last year's form a bit now, especially given a key part of the team's leadout was scuppered when Floortje Mackaij punctured late on and wasn't able to contribute fully to it, but with Ellen van Dijk and Lucinda Brand at least Coryn had a decent level of protection and the day's results suggests it's her that is plan A for Sunweb.

1 Jolien d'Hoore (Mitchelton-Scott) BEL 3'14'39
2 Marta Bastianelli (Alé-Cipollini) ITA +st
3 Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) USA +st
4 Giorgia Bronzini (Cylance) ITA +st
5 Amalie Dideriksen (Boels-Dolmans) DEN +st
6 Marianne Vos (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) NED +st
7 Roxane Fournier (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope '86) FRA +st
8 Kirsten Wild (Wiggle-High 5) NED +st
9 Hannah Barnes (Canyon-SRAM) GBR +st
10 Barbara Guarischi (Virtu Pro Cycling) ITA +st

Thanks to time bonuses, the GC is slightly different as plenty of riders had accrued some bonus seconds at the intermediates.

1 Jolien d'Hoore (Mitchelton-Scott) BEL 3'14'29
2 Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) USA +2"
3 Marta Bastianelli (Alé-Cipollini) ITA +4"
4 Amy Pieters (Boels-Dolmans) NED +5"
5 Danielle Rowe (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) GBR +8"
6 Chloe Hosking (Alé-Cipollini) AUS +9"
7 Giorgia Bronzini (Cylance) ITA +10"
8 Amalie Dideriksen (Boels-Dolmans) DEN +st
9 Marianne Vos (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) NED +st
10 Roxane Fournier (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope '86) FRA +st

Perhaps the most significant of the few riders to have dropped time is Lisa Brennauer, who came in 38" back, with three teammates trailing further back. The 2015 winner was seemingly on form, having just won Thüringen, so that suggests there was a crash or a mechanical at an inopportune time involved, similar to Mackaij. Katie Archibald had a very strong race here last year too, and is already 2 minutes down, so she may now focus on the intermediate sprints, or Wiggle will throw everything behind Elisa Longo Borghini as Wild is unlikely to survive the hills tomorrow and Elisa is the only other rider they have who's on the bunch's time.
 
Surprising that Van Der Breggen is missing the Giro - Though she find the true alpine passes challenging and the mainly uphill ITT is not to her advantage, she would still probably have podiumed - And I doubt she is ideally suited to this year's Worlds.
 
Re:

yaco said:
Surprising that Van Der Breggen is missing the Giro - Though she find the true alpine passes challenging and the mainly uphill ITT is not to her advantage, she would still probably have podiumed - And I doubt she is ideally suited to this year's Worlds.
Is the women’s circuit the same as the men’s one in this year’s WCRR?
 
Re:

Libertine Seguros said:
Well, in fairness to the Women's Tour, they do get a full one-hour highlight package and the coverage provided is top draw with excellent graphics, helicam footage and everything required to convince you that the race is a big deal (I've often maintained that making the race look like a big deal is a big part of making it a big deal - the fact so many women's races can't afford the big game graphics and helicopters in their short footage puts them at a level with the lower category men's races in the audience's mind, whereas the Women's Tour's highlights packages include rider profiles, interviews, and the same production given to the men's Tour of Britain which helps the race look good externally, making it attractive to sponsors. The crowds are always a plus point as the Britons love to turn out to a bike race at the moment.

I wish there was live coverage too, but I find it difficult to be too critical of the organisers for the coverage they do put out, other than that the host channel relegated them to late night last year, I think they're in a better time slot this year again though. If they could baby-steps it to try to push for live coverage that would be great, like the Emakumeen Bira does where they've been extending the highlights footage and then broadcasting the final day live for the last couple of seasons, that might be a way for them to persuade the broadcasters to extend it out.

Anyway, the race began today, and if I'm honest I'm not so sure live coverage would have helped this particular stage out too much as it seems this one was fuel to the fire for the "women's cycling is boring" crowd as little of note happened until the final sprint, save for a solo breakaway through a technical section from Susanne Andersen of Hitec Products, helping the beleaguered team get some airtime. We've seen countless similar men's stages of course, especially in this region as East Anglia has become one of Britain's most cycling-supportive regions after Yorkshire - since first bringing the men's Tour of Britain into the area in 2010, the men have been in the region in 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2017, and the women have raced through the area in 2014, 2015, 2016 and now 2018. Unfortunately, the region's geography is such that it makes Denmark look like Norway, so sprints have dominated.

There was further reason to believe that the sprinters would prevail today too - the péloton made a dreadful miscalculation in the first stage last year (well, dreadful for them. As a known Niewiadoma fan and a dyed-in-the-wool critic of flat stages, I was perfectly happy with the outcome) that led to the GC being settled on day 1, leaving the sprinters with fewer chances than anticipated to make a difference and everybody not named "Katarzyna Niewiadoma" with an uphill struggle (against somebody who's very good at going uphill) to overhaul the GC. As a result, nobody was in the mood to let even the not-especially-threatening attacks go (after all, who'd have thought a climber riding away 50km from home in a flat stage would be so dangerous?) and so the bunch held everybody on a tight leash, also enabling some battling at the intermediate sprints, with bonus seconds being taken by Dani Rowe (interesting to see her sprinting for Waowdeals instead of Vos, though it is of course her home race) and Coryn Rivera, but most notably 5 seconds being collected by Amy Pieters. All of those are capable of getting over a few obstacles (well, in Coryn's case obviously since she's won the Trofeo Binda) so this kind of accumulation could be crucial in the long run.

When the sprint did come (inevitably), it was a fairly straightforward one. The course was a much safer run-in than the last time the Women's Tour was in this part of the UK (the Norwich finish with about 11 corners in the last kilometre in 2016, which caused carnage and all time gaps were annulled, though did lead to some intrigue with a solo breakaway staying until only 150m from home), and when the riders arrived at the seafront they took a right and faced a slight headwind on a slight uphill to the line. It's the kind of finish that favours the power sprinters, but Kirsten Wild, perhaps the most powerful of all, was hampered by a lack of teammates in the group so it fell to Jolien d'Hoore, arguably the strongest sprinter on the startlist but with her form a gigantic question mark given it was her first race back from a collarbone break (only three weeks ago!), to force the issue, driving home comfortably ahead of Marta Bastianelli and Coryn Rivera; the American looks to be getting up to last year's form a bit now, especially given a key part of the team's leadout was scuppered when Floortje Mackaij punctured late on and wasn't able to contribute fully to it, but with Ellen van Dijk and Lucinda Brand at least Coryn had a decent level of protection and the day's results suggests it's her that is plan A for Sunweb.

1 Jolien d'Hoore (Mitchelton-Scott) BEL 3'14'39
2 Marta Bastianelli (Alé-Cipollini) ITA +st
3 Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) USA +st
4 Giorgia Bronzini (Cylance) ITA +st
5 Amalie Dideriksen (Boels-Dolmans) DEN +st
6 Marianne Vos (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) NED +st
7 Roxane Fournier (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope '86) FRA +st
8 Kirsten Wild (Wiggle-High 5) NED +st
9 Hannah Barnes (Canyon-SRAM) GBR +st
10 Barbara Guarischi (Virtu Pro Cycling) ITA +st

Thanks to time bonuses, the GC is slightly different as plenty of riders had accrued some bonus seconds at the intermediates.

1 Jolien d'Hoore (Mitchelton-Scott) BEL 3'14'29
2 Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) USA +2"
3 Marta Bastianelli (Alé-Cipollini) ITA +4"
4 Amy Pieters (Boels-Dolmans) NED +5"
5 Danielle Rowe (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) GBR +8"
6 Chloe Hosking (Alé-Cipollini) AUS +9"
7 Giorgia Bronzini (Cylance) ITA +10"
8 Amalie Dideriksen (Boels-Dolmans) DEN +st
9 Marianne Vos (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) NED +st
10 Roxane Fournier (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope '86) FRA +st

Perhaps the most significant of the few riders to have dropped time is Lisa Brennauer, who came in 38" back, with three teammates trailing further back. The 2015 winner was seemingly on form, having just won Thüringen, so that suggests there was a crash or a mechanical at an inopportune time involved, similar to Mackaij. Katie Archibald had a very strong race here last year too, and is already 2 minutes down, so she may now focus on the intermediate sprints, or Wiggle will throw everything behind Elisa Longo Borghini as Wild is unlikely to survive the hills tomorrow and Elisa is the only other rider they have who's on the bunch's time.
Both Brennauer and Archibald crashed on the road after leaving the A12 and before Roydon. Brennauer first, then as they chased back on Archibald went down. There was another rider lying poleaxed on the road after the first left hander just as you enter Southwold - not sure who that was.
 
The rider who was poleaxed in Southwold itself was Abigail van Twisk, from Trek-Drops. She crossed the line, but several minutes after the others, and was then taken to the hospital. Luckily nothing lasting (she certainly looked in a bad way face down on the tarmac) but she recorded a DNF today.

I have some mixed feelings about today's stage - I'm concerned that with this being the most dramatic finale of the race, the closest a significant obstacle is to the finishing line, that the outcome suggests we could be looking at the race being settled on bonus seconds again, I thought we'd got past those days from the first couple of editions and indeed hope that a couple of the stages to come will enable some of the teams to produce a decisive breakaway rather than it being a matter of control. I was hoping that Newnham Hill would open up some smaller time gaps to incentivize some more aggressive racing later on. As it is there are some, with some of the stronger climbers in the race having ended up losing a few seconds at the line, but from her interview yesterday I don't think Niewiadoma sees this race as one for her and indeed now it's the other two of the team's climbing trifecta, PFP and Amialiusik, who will shoulder the team's GC aims, seeing as they are at the top end of the GC. Very interesting to see that it's quite clear Dani Rowe is WaowDeals' designated here, because certainly when placed in a GC mix against strong sprinting riders like Coryn Rivera you would anticipate she would have a deficit in that department, but she's also been climbing pretty well this season and the chance to lead on home roads may well have been a factor.

Despite yesterday, the bunch were happy enough to allow a breakaway today, and in something a bit more akin to men's cycling, with Maaike Boogaard of BTC City-Ljubljana, those perennial race animators, probably cursing her luck that nobody chose to join her on her 70km solo odyssey, however the women are a bit less well-versed in the timing of the catch to kill off counter attacks and manage the sprints than the men, which is a good thing for the spectacle because it meant the Dutch teenager was brought back with some 50km to go, before the battle for the QOM began. I got a bit excited by the first climb with Kasia and Cille putting on the hurt, but there wasn't really the opportunity to make any significant differences on that first ascent - and looking at that top 4 on the first climb - Majerus, Longo Borghini, Niewiadoma, Ludwig - it's really no surprise to see the Luxembourger win the sprint there, she should beat that trio 11 times out of 10 in a sprint.

Of much more interest was the attack group that was formed on the first passage of Newnham Hill, with a very elite group being formed after a strong bit of climbing by Longo Borghini and Niewiadoma who broke away a bit with a chasing group led by Rowe, Ludwig and with a few others in line including Marianne Vos. ELB's descending prowess pressured the chasers and dropped Kasia, but eventually a specialist quartet was found when the Pole was ridden across to the Italian champion by the WaowDeals duo of Dani Rowe and Eddy Merckx. The big problem for WaowDeals in that group was that not only did they outnumber the others, but they also had the strongest - and the second strongest - sprinter in the group, meaning that they couldn't bank on any assistance at all from the two grimpeuses. It very much looked like Elisa and Kasia were the strongest climbers, as you might expect given there is no Annemiek, no Anna and no Ash in the race, but with few obstacles as close to the finish as this in the coming stages, they'll have to make a hard race of the climbs there are in order to distance the stronger teams like Sunweb and WaowDeals who have numbers on hand.

As it was, however, today they didn't have the chance to make it count as once that less-than-cooperative quartet was recaptured by the main bunch marshaled by the Sunweb troops - their strength in depth with the likes of Brand, van Dijk and Mackaij means that they are able to do a lot of work over varying terrain as well as contribute at least one viable winner even if Coryn is dropped. But it doesn't look like that ought to be too much of a worry on today's evidence; having had a somewhat slow start to the season compared to last year's dramatic adaptation to the World Tour, Rivera seems to be finding her form again and she was untroubled by Newnham Hill the second time, which is ominous for the other GC candidates seeing as Coryn has built up a pretty successful bank of bonus seconds. Longo Borghini did her best to make the final climb difficult, but was being chased down happily by PFP and Marianne Vos, an imposing duo no doubt. Others looking prominent at the front included Amialiusik, Rowe and Ensing, but the group did not split up as much as on the first time; riders seemed to have a better idea of how to pace it, and other notable climbers who'd been well-placed the first time over such as Ludwig and Niewiadoma were nowhere to be seen at the front of the bunch the second time. A small elite group got away but was chased onto by a second group meaning around 20 riders contested the sprint, but from those there, Rivera was both the strongest sprinter comfortably and the rider with the best support to lead her out for it, enabling her to take the stage victory ahead of Vos and Majerus after a sneaky dart to the inside from on the legend's wheel. Very interesting to see some of the names that made that final group - continued strong form from Eva Buurman for Trek-Drops, after an excellent Thüringen Rundfahrt and knowing there isn't an ITT here to drop her down the order as that meant she didn't quite get the GC result her consistency deserved there, and also impressive to see BTC's young Russian Anastasiya Iakovenko, who is quietly having a very impressive season - being in the break that went in Chongming, but also being in the top 10 in both Plumelec races and Flèche Wallonne - but also very interesting that Niewiadoma didn't make the selection while PFP and Alena did, the defending champion being in the second group of 15 at +17" alongside Ludwig, Ensing and Blaak. I would say that, with Hannah Barnes losing 1'20", the chances of any sprinters (other than Rivera, if we still consider her one, which we probably shouldn't at this stage) taking the GC are now pretty much over. Most of the big teams had at least one rider up front - Sunweb with Rivera and van Dijk, WaowDeals with Rowe and Vos, Canyon with Amialiusik and Ferrand-Prévot, Boels with Pieters and Majerus, Wiggle with Longo Borghini and Brennauer (though Lisa lost 38" yesterday so isn't the same level of GC threat) - so one would expect that anybody attacking from a weaker position on the GC will find a good few of those large teams working to limit their advantage so the GC winner may well come from that group. And it may well be Coryn, since somebody's got to drop her AND stay away from a chase which will have the likes of Lucinda Brand and Ellen van Dijk at its disposal.

Stage 2:
1 Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) USA 4'08'06
2 Marianne Vos (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) NED +st
3 Christine Majerus (Boels-Dolmans) LUX +st
4 Danielle Rowe (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) GBR +st
5 Gracie Elvin (Mitchelton-Scott) AUS +st
6 Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (Canyon-SRAM) FRA +st
7 Maria Giulia Confalonieri (Valcar-PBM) ITA +st
8 Eugenia Bujak (BTC City-Ljubljana) SLO +st
9 Eva Buurman (Trek-Drops) NED +st
10 Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High 5) ITA +st

GC after stage 2:
1 Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) USA 7'22'22
2 Danielle Rowe (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) GBR +15"
3 Marianne Vos (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) NED +16"
4 Amy Pieters (Boels-Dolmans) NED +17"
5 Christine Majerus (Boels-Dolmans) LUX +19"
6 Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High 5) ITA +21"
7 Eugenia Bujak (BTC City-Ljubljana) SLO +23"
8 Eva Buurman (Trek-Drops) NED +23"
9 Maria Giulia Confalonieri (Valcar-PBM) ITA +23"
10 Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (Canyon-SRAM) FRA +23"

It seems I have failed to notice that her 3rd place in last week's Ljubljana-Domžale-Ljubljana ITT also means that Eugenia Bujak has become the Slovene ITT champion, as I hadn't realised that it doubled as the national championships (Zabelinskaya won ahead of Hayley Simmonds, for the record). And to be honest, I had thought that the Slovene flag appearing next to Bujak's name was simply an error through conflation with the team for whom she's been by far the most visible name, but she has adopted Slovene nationality.
 
Stage 3 from Atherstone to Royal Leamington Spa is one of the longer stages in the women's calendar, at over 150km, and a direct clone of last year's third stage too, which was supposed to be one of the better stages for challenging the sizable advantage held by Niewiadoma, but everything came back together as the moves were marshaled and Chloe Hosking wound out the victor. The finish had been slightly altered, but with the GC much more tightly-bound than at the same stage last year, it was a more nervous péloton that set off through the Midlands. The sprints came before any of the challenges also, which offered the possibility for those all-important bonus seconds as, unfortunately, it looks like we are liable to return to one of the earlier editions of the race, which had the problem of basically providing large crowds and coverage and receiving praise for its organisation and exposure, but also receiving criticism for not producing routes conducive to racing (Emma Johansson in particular in 2015 said that she wouldn't bother returning unless they improved the parcours). The courses have branched out geographically and now cover more of the country over more varied stages, but I am still somewhat concerned by the placement of obstacles in the course. Still, you're never going to get a particularly selective stage in East Anglia unless the weather plays ball and each stage is progressively more difficult in terms of its features as a ride, I'm just concerned too many of the obstacles are not close enough to the stage finishes to enable them to be decisive, though to an extent that is also a function of the fact that Sunweb are clearly keen to win this one with Coryn, and she can get over these small hills, and only really the final stage ought to cause her any trouble, and with the strength of the riders she has at her disposal to keep her in contention, escaping from her is tough enough but staying away is even harder. And with the American continuing to pick up seconds in the metas volantes, the time gap needed keeps getting bigger as well.

As ever in the Women's Tour, the importance of those bonus sprints in setting the GC serve as an obstacle to breakaways forming, but like in stage 1 Hitec Products are keen to get their jerseys some airtime, with their current problems in respect of funding, and after Susanne Andersen's foray that day, today it was Vita Heine's turn to try to escape, getting away with strong rouleuse Ann-Sophie Duyck and building up a lead of over two minutes as a result, with Rivera happy to extend her lead by mopping up the remaining one second bonus. Did I mention that I wish these weren't as decisive as they are (maybe I'm still smarting from Ratto not winning in 2014 despite being the only person to win other than from the bunch, but I always have a bit of a distaste for when the metas volantes jersey, a title ostensibly for the breakaway, is worn by the GC leader when that leader has never left the péloton)?

Either way, the péloton seemed happy to allow the duo to hang out there for a while and entrust Sunweb with the responsibility of protecting Rivera's lead, in the hope of weakening them for the final run-in. When they got to the climbs, interestingly it was Marianne Vos who decided to spring from the group, but Niewiadoma was alert, and so she, Longo Borghini and Ferrand-Prévot wound up at the front with Merckx, albeit still some way back from the escapees, who had separated with Duyck proving the stronger climber. Longo Borghini and Niewiadoma escaped from there, proving themselves the stronger climbers just as yesterday, but only really opening up a smallish gap which was never going to be decisive. The increase in the pace harmed the breakaway's chances, and even more so the counter-attack from Rossella Ratto, seeing as she's not that far down and has won difficult stages here before; the bunch was not keen to let her get too much time up the road and this doomed the escapees once and for all. On the second climb it was the same duo of Kasia and Elisa who were the strongest climbers, but also accompanied by Sabrina Stultiens. Amialiusik counter attacked, and we were left with the same situation as yesterday, with a four woman breakaway but two in the same team, which harmed cohesion once the summit of the QOM was over (Longo Borghini winning the sprint, which would be a wtf scenario if it weren't a two-up against the similarly un-sprinty Niewiadoma).

There were attempts to escape from the sprint on the final run-in - Stultiens and Amialiusik stayed in there, and were assisted by Dani Rowe and Christine Majerus, who are keen on the GC here and now know they are unlikely to win back enough time from Coryn Rivera without escaping, and Omer Shapiro. Sunweb were not keen on letting that group go, so Boels tried again with Amalie Dideriksen, joined by the ever-combative Niewiadoma but anchored by Lucinda Brand who of course was not going to cooperate. Canyon were determined to escape, PFP tried to counterattack once they were pulled back and they'd done enough of a job on the Sunweb domestiques that Coryn had to chase it herself, but once that threat was neutralised the race calmed down somewhat as Mackaij and van Dijk restored order for Sunweb at the front despite the attempts by the impressively persistent Vita Heine to escape as well as further attempts from Rowe and Dideriksen. Niewiadoma tried to explode away from the front with 5km remaining, but the gradients really weren't enough to enable her to use her punch to make a decisive gap and she really had to fight hard just to open up a small amount of breathing space between her and the péloton. One of the reasons I like Kasia is that she won't die trying though, and she wrestled her bike until she had a gap, forcing van Dijk to chase her, but once the false flat was over she was doomed against such a strong TT engine. Amialiusik countered (did I mention I love this Canyon climbing trifecta?) with Mackaij and Blaak killing that move, the latter setting up a move from Majerus, for whom this is a much more suitable terrain for escaping. Having been invisible to date, Mitchelton then came to the front to help Sunweb pull the Luxembourger back. It was a calculated gamble given that they don't have their most versatile riders here and Jolien had been dropped on the climbs. But it was a gamble that paid off as with the sprint being up into a headwind like on stage 1, it was the Australian team that once more took the triumph, with Vos trying to go for a long one and catch the bunch unawares; it didn't quite work as Sarah Roy snuck past her followed closely by Giorgia Bronzini. Rivera was slightly caught on the hop but despite missing out on time bonuses still got a helpful bonus as Vos' late move taking all but the first few riders by surprise meant that behind Rivera and the two French FDJ sprinters, a time gap of 2 seconds was given to the remainder of the bunch, meaning that despite Vos taking time bonuses on the line, the overall extent of Rivera's lead slightly extended thanks to her collection of intermediate bonuses. Nobody unexpected lost time, as everybody who has been in the key positions in the GC made the front group.

Stage:
1 Sarah Roy (Mitchelton-Scott) AUS 3'55'09
2 Giorgia Bronzini (Cylance Pro Cycling) ITA +st
3 Marianne Vos (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) NED +st
4 Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) USA +st
5 Roxane Fournier (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope '86) FRA +st
6 Eugénie Duval (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope '86) FRA +st
7 Maria Giulia Confalonieri (Valcar-PBM) ITA +2"
8 Eva Buurman (Trek-Drops) NED +st
9 Amy Pieters (Boels-Dolmans) NED +st
10 Danielle Rowe (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) GBR +st

GC:
1 Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) USA 11'17'27
2 Marianne Vos (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) NED +16"
3 Danielle Rowe (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) GBR +20"
4 Amy Pieters (Boels-Dolmans) NED +23"
5 Christine Majerus (Boels-Dolmans) LUX +23"
6 Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High 5) ITA +27"
7 Eva Buurman (Trek-Drops) NED +29"
8 Eugenia Bujak (BTC City-Ljubljana) SLO +29"
9 Maria Giulia Confalonieri (Valcar-PBM) ITA +29"
10 Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (Canyon-SRAM) FRA +29"
 
The fourth stage of the Women's Tour ran through the West Midlands, and was dedicated to former rider Sharon Laws, who sadly died in December at the age of just 43, after a year-long battle with cancer. She had been part of last year's broadcast team on the race and won the Queen of the Mountains in the first edition of the race. Although she rarely settled at any teams long-term, only one of her former teams was in attendance in the race - Cervélo-Bigla, for whom she rode in 2015, and although Lotta Lepistö is the only rider in attendance at the Women's Tour who was a teammate of Sharon's back then, the team was keen to be visible as a result. Unfortunately they were also stripped of one of their strongest engines, with Ann-Sophie Duyck withdrawing due to illness. Trek-Drops, similarly, lost two of their young British riders, which with van Twisk having withdrawn after her stage 1 crash also leaves them with very few riders left to defend Buurman's high GC position. A huge crash almost immediately after km0 added further riders to the list of abandons, with Alé losing two riders from their sprint set-up, former German TT champ Mieke Kröger, and two major teams losing a domestique - Boels' Jip van den Bos and Wiggle's Anna Badegruber - all from the injuries sustained.

Hitec Products' determination to get their sponsors shown and to get some exposure in the race given their unfortunate financial position continued, and given that she'd had surprising success in similar fashion in Chongming Island, the veteran German Charlotte Becker launched an attack which the péloton, seeing she was 5 minutes down on the GC, was less than fussed about chasing. The unfortunate thing for the former Cervélo rider was, however, that nobody was tempted to join her, so while she was able to build a 3 minute lead, she was stuck all alone. Being no threat to the GC, Sunweb were happy to peg her, and help Coryn to pick up more points - and those crucial seconds - in the intermediate sprints. More frustration for the likes of Rowe and Vos as with BTC City-Ljubljana looking at a strong GC position, Eugenia Bujak started contesting the intermediates also, the former Pole being a more than capable sprinter in her own right.

Being well down on the GC, Pauliena Rooijakkers was keen to attack on the large climb of the day, which was Laws' favourite training climb, trying to set up Vos, but she couldn't get far, and the previous status quo in the climbs was restored as Niewiadoma and Longo Borghini were the ones to put the pressure on at the front of the group - though the bunch was trimmed, it was a long way from the finish and nothing decisive could be created; ELB was able to sprint away from the defending champion for the GPM, but with van Dijk able to peg her gap and Rivera not dropped - and indeed the likes of Amy Pieters picked up mountains points here, so we can tell that the climbing wasn't too tough at this stage.

Rather unexpectedly, given a sprint outcome was still quite likely, Lotta Lepistö got on the front, a strange waste of energy for the Finnish champion, but there was method in the madness as she set up an escape from her teammate Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, who is of course a more understandable rider to be making aggressive moves over hilly terrain. The Danish TT champion drew Audrey Cordon-Ragot out of the péloton too, which made for a strong time trialling duo, and the two swiftly crossed the gap to Becker - both Audrey and Cille are popular riders as well, and their presence in the breakaway gave a couple of features - one, that Laws' former team was represented up at the front, even if Sharon had already retired at the point that Cille turned pro, and secondly that it took their teams out of the chase, helpful for Lotta as well seeing as the team had lost one of their strongest TT engines. Ludwig was also a serious threat, being less than a minute down on the GC, so Sunweb got into the business of pegging them, helped a bit by Mitchelton-Scott seeing as the second péloton had rejoined the first and Jolien d'Hoore was present. Cille looked like she had some interest in the QOM, seeing as she's picked up a few points here and there so far, but really she'd need max points and ELB to score none at any climb today or tomorrow to get it, and when Cordon-Ragot showed she was going to contest it to protect her "twin" Ludwig conceded. I think mathematically Kasia can top Longo Borghini but it's unlikely as I don't see ELB not scoring any points if she doesn't crash. However, nobody challenged the Dane at the intermediate sprint as obviously being easily the biggest GC threat in the group, she was the only one really interested in the potential GC benefit of the move rather than the stage.

The trio had 30 seconds at 10km remaining, but the group was starting to play games, Becker had been out for 100km and was not too keen on being together with fresher riders too, and when the counter-attacks came, the lead trio were swept up as they didn't have an answer. Aafke Soet and Sara Penton were the first riders to make significant headway in the run-in, but it was unlikely that the duo, from two of the smaller teams in the race, would be able to stay away from a rather determined bunch, especially as the climbs were too far from the finish to really be effective in creating a selective stage (my biggest continuing gripe with the Women's Tour, even when they have the terrain the stage doesn't necessarily make the best of it, like the trips around Chesterfield the last two years where they use the excellent terrain to the west early in the stage then a rolling second half in the flatter terrain to the east, rather than the other way round) and so most teams had their full sprint trains in attendance.

One thing that the Women's Tour does tend to give us, however, is very technical run-ins. If you'd asked before last year what the Women's Tour was all about in terms of the important factors in the GC, I'd have told you, managing technical finishes and sprint bonuses. Christine Majerus in 2015 was the only one to make any time on the bunch whatsoever with a late escape on a technical run-in. To add to the troubles, you got that most British of things: rain - just to add to the difficulty in managing the obstacles. And it was the Best British Rider jersey wearer that was caught out by it, as of the biggest names in the race Dani Rowe was the one that got caught up in a significant crash taking her out of contention; she doesn't lose out too much as it was inside the final 3km, but nevertheless the chance of taking any bonus seconds was taken away from her and the chance of placing herself in the group was gone too, with the pace high as Mitchelton-Scott and Boels were pushing hard to set up their sprinters - d'Hoore was boxed in however, and the sprint got pretty messy with riders in several different lanes; Pieters did a great lead out and Dideriksen got out of the wheel on the right hand side, which with everybody going left gave her some nice space to force the pace, and she took it home clearly as Vos was unable to draw her in, and as she faded she was pipped by Lepistö, who was just about the quickest in the sprint, but was too far back to make it count, sneaking into 2nd but still a bike length short of Amalie. Still, Rivera being unable to pick up any bonus seconds on the line means Vos drew slightly closer, and Rowe doesn't lose out too heavily, so long as she suffers no lasting damage from the crash.

Stage 4:
1 Amalie Dideriksen (Boels-Dolmans) DEN
2 Lotta Lepistö (Cervélo-Bigla) FIN +st
3 Marianne Vos (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) NED +st
4 Chloe Hosking (Alé-Cipollini) AUS +st
5 Barbara Guarischi (Team Virtu) ITA +st
6 Chiara Consonni (Valcar-PBM) ITA +st
7 Emma Norsgaard Jørgensen (Cervélo-Bigla) DEN +st
8 Jolien d'Hoore (Mitchelton-Scott) BEL +st
9 Neah Evans (Storey Racing) GBR +st
10 Roxane Fournier (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope '86) FRA +st

GC with one stage remaining:
1 Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) USA 14'48'44
2 Marianne Vos (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) NED +14"
3 Danielle Rowe (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) GBR +22"
4 Amy Pieters (Boels-Dolmans) NED +25"
5 Christine Majerus (Boels-Dolmans) LUX +25"
6 Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High 5) ITA +29"
7 Eugenia Bujak (BTC City-Ljubljana) SLO +30"
8 Eva Buurman (Trek-Drops) NED +31"
9 Maria Giulia Confalonieri (Valcar-PBM) ITA +31"
10 Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (Canyon-SRAM) FRA +31"

With the final stage including the toughest climbs, but a similar issue to this stage in terms of the actual obstacles being rather too far from the finish to make an attack on them stick unless you have a seriously elite group, then I would suggest that the strength in depth Sunweb have and the engines they have at their disposal, given how comfortably van Dijk looked on the climb today and that the cat.1 wasn't able to drop the likes of Rivera and Pieters, that it's likely that we're going to see another edition of the Women's Tour where the race winner has never left the péloton - that said, it hasn't been like the first two editions where the fastest rider on the road (Rossella Ratto and Christine Majerus respectively) has not taken the race as nobody has been able to actually gain any time on Coryn yet, other than limiting her gains at metas volantes. Vos and Rowe did get into that attack quartet on stage 2 alongside ELB and Kasia, but there's not been any real GC-significant moves that looked like they would stick, as Sunweb have executed their plan perfectly, they have been able to maximise their gains in the intermediates and haven't looked troubled on the climbs either. Coryn Rivera is more than just a sprinter, it's just that the sprints are how she makes her gains; she's a follower in the hills, but a threat to anybody that can't drop her. If the race was harder and the obstacles closer to the finish, she might still have wound up the victor based on the form she's been able to show.
 
The arguably best-covered and almost certainly best-attended women's race of the season wound to a close today, with the final stage of the Women's Tour introducing it to Wales for what I believe is its first sojourn outside of England. Rather disappointingly, the riders were crossing Snowdonia, but only early in the stage with the latter stages winding along flat roads along the coast and not even the punchy climb of Bryn-y-Maen which could be approached from several sides of varying difficulties to give a final challenge that could be significant for the GC and put some pressure on Coryn Rivera, who of course was unlikely to be challenged over the flat roads by anybody in real GC contention, with her sprint prowess and the team support at her disposal.

That wasn't to stop riders from trying, of course, especially as there was a bit of rain in the air. At first a fairly unthreatening breakway got away featuring Susanne Andersen, Emilie Moberg and Marta Tagliaferro, later joined by Natalie Grinczer, none of whom were serious GC threats but it did continue Hitec's determination to get their sponsors airtime, and with that format it more or less resembled a men's racing stage for some time there. Now, when the climbs began, we saw some serious long-range attack attempts as Kasia Niewiadoma pushed away on the first climb of the day, well over 70km from the finish, but the problem was that the steepest sections weren't all that long and on the false flats and more tempo-suitable gradients, Ellen van Dijk and Lucinda Brand were able to peg the Polka back. Chasing an elite climber like that killed the breakaway's chances stone dead, however, and coming over the climb with the Sunweb train happy to roll over, seeing Rivera second in line was pretty daunting for those climbers hoping she might wilt on the Nant Gwynant climb.

The next move was a bit of a strange one, Marta Bastianelli of all people riding away solo, turning the clocks back to Marta Mk I, the exciting and combative rider of the Stuttgart Worlds, before she was persuaded to try to become a GC climber and turned to diet pills. The strangeness continued as the first Canyon rider to attack on the biggest climb of the race was not Niewiadoma, not PFP and not Amialiusik, but Hannah Barnes, the strongest sprinter they have in the race - strangely quiet after last year's breakout. The GPM wasn't really challenged at all with Niewiadoma unwilling to chase her own teammate, and no longer mathematically able to pass Elisa for the QOM title, so it was uncontested with Bastianelli riding over solo, followed by Barnes and Georgia Williams who joined her mid-climb, then Longo Borghini and pretty much the entire Sunweb team.

The iron grip of the black and white mafia continued as they reeled back all moves until the intermediate sprint, enabling Rivera to take further bonus seconds, before the winding, undulating run-in; an interesting attack came in from Niewiadoma and Longo Borghini again (easily the most combative riders of the race, along with Susanne Andersen) with Amy Pieters, but with Brand and Rivera making the junction it came to nothing. The next significant move came from Chantal Blaak, followed by Ellen van Dijk and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, fresh from yesterday's aggression. Canyon-SRAM and Boels having missed the move meant that they were keen to chase, while Cille was relatively reluctant to commit long turns to her break companions, as the weakest sprinter in the group. With a long and mostly straight run-in, it became inevitable that we would see a sprint to complete the stage, and so it turned out; while we'd had a good idea who the strongest sprinters in the race were, d'Hoore left the race today and Hosking was dropped early on, but nobody had really been talking about Lotta Lepistö after a pretty quiet race - yet the Cervélo-Bigla sprinter was able to manage it perfectly and hit the front at just the right time; it was a day for the veterans, with Giorgia Bronzini, the ever-durable and ever-dependable former World Champion, hitting the line for 2nd, and Vos taking the last few bonus seconds, but at this stage even the win couldn't dethrone Rivera, who was able to comfortably defend her overall lead from safely ensconsced within the péloton. Despite the most sustained and lengthy climbs of the entire race, even with the top 10 separated by only 30 seconds, the long flat run-in meant that the only casualty among the GC upper echelons was Maria Giulia Confalonieri, who finished with the laughing group, enabling PFP to move up a place and Stultiens to move into the top 10, giving WaowDeals three of the top 10.

Final stage:
1 Lotta Lepistö (Cervélo-Bigla) FIN 3'03'55
2 Giorgia Bronzini (Cylance) ITA +st
3 Marianne Vos (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) NED +st
4 Marta Bastianelli (Alé-Cipollini) ITA +st
5 Roxane Fournier (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope '86) FRA +st
6 Kirsten Wild (Wiggle-High 5) NED +st
7 Sarah Roy (Mitchelton-Scott) AUS +st
8 Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) USA +st
9 Christine Majerus (Boels-Dolmans) LUX +st
10 Lisa Klein (Canyon-SRAM) GER +st

Final GC:
1 Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) USA 17'52'36
2 Marianne Vos (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) NED +11"
3 Danielle Rowe (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) GBR +25"
4 Christine Majerus (Boels-Dolmans) LUX +27"
5 Amy Pieters (Boels-Dolmans) NED +28"
6 Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High 5) ITA +32"
7 Eugenia Bujak (BTC City-Ljubljana) SLO +33"
8 Eva Buurman (Trek-Drops) NED +34"
9 Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (Canyon-SRAM) FRA +34"
10 Sabrina Stultiens (WaowDeals Pro Cycling) NED +34"

I have some mixed feelings about the Women's Tour this year. It's great to see the crowds that the race draws, and Lord knows it's really pleasing to see a full hour of coverage of every single stage, with rider profiles, interviews and all sorts that give us a much more detailed look into the race than we often get from TV coverage of the women's races. It's a shame it isn't live, but the actual coverage provided is one thing I really haven't ever been able to fault the Women's Tour for - and that this year's have returned to a more acceptable timeslot (last year's didn't go out on UK TV until very late, even less accessible for European audiences). However, the parcours really wasn't ideal to showcase the best of women's racing, with fairly limited variety and indeed Coryn Rivera eventually won fairly comfortably and never looked threatened, but simultaneously she won the race without ever leaving the péloton once - on the plus side, it's not like she didn't win the race on the road like Vos or Brennauer, but I really thought after 2016's entertaining middle stages with aggression from Armitstead and Moolman-Pasio, and last year's surprising racing that was enforced by the péloton's miscalculation on stage 1, I really felt from a racing perspective we were headed in the right direction, but this year they've put some nice tough climbs in the race, but nowhere that can be reasonably used as a platform to gain time, other than Newnham Hill on stage 2, which wasn't really long enough to create severe separation - there were a few seconds between groups but it was still sprints of sizable groups at the line. I would like a bit more variety ideally - on the TV coverage Joanna Rowsell-Shand was suggesting a short ITT or a hilltop finish would be beneficial to try to counteract the reliance on bonus seconds for the GC because while you can provide world class coverage, you can provide a lot of money, and you can provide a great live audience, but the show is the race, and when 3/5 editions have been won from the péloton the media about it being one of the top women's races feels somewhat harder to accept than it ought to be.

I suppose what I'm getting at is, while I love almost everything that surrounds the Women's Tour - the media and promotion work that SweetSpot does is first rate, the TV coverage is excellent, and the support for it is the best you'll see all season (there are a lot of races in the Classics that can put together crowds like this, but all too often they're mainly there for the men's version that follows later, whereas at the Women's Tour they're there for the Women's Tour only - I'm still not convinced that I should love the Women's Tour itself, as I say I thought they were headed in the right direction, but then I think last year's race might have been interesting from a racing perspective in a slightly artificial way, i.e. that the reason the racing was aggressive like that was because of the stage 1 miscalculation and had that ended in a sprint, we'd have seen a similar type of racing to the earlier years. Ultimately though, the racing is the main event, and I really wish they would allow for a wider range of styles of stage; in the early editions they were restricted by the regions used for travelling through, but now the race has established itself they have a lot more at their disposal, and I really hope they can utilize that terrain a bit better in coming editions to further justify the race's developing pre-eminent position at this time of year and cement a bit more prestige for the actual victory in the race rather than have the in-race talk dominated by the crowds and the prize money - and so that the presenters' hyping of thrilling finales and exciting finishes doesn't sound so hollow with all stages ending in sprints of approximately half the péloton.

I guess also, given this is one of the few races where the women really get the coverage available to showcase what they can do, racing-wise, I just wish they'd be given a route that maximises this opportunity by letting them put on a show, rather than hamstring them with long flat run-ins. There's a lot to like about the overall package of the Women's Tour... but for me it's just lacking a little something to kick it up to the position that it clearly is looking for within the women's péloton. It's noteworthy that despite the improvements in the budget and the prize money, several of the most prominent climbers in the world stayed home. A couple more editions with racing like 2016 would be preferable, but a couple of these stages here could have been vastly improved from a racing point of view with only a couple of minor tweaks, and I hope they can make such tweaks for future editions without needing prominent riders to call them out publicly like Emma Johansson did in 2015 or Annemiek van Vleuten did about the 2017 Giro.
 
It's not like there aren't places where you could put on a cracking finish. How about a last 20 km around the Ironbridge Gorge, involving an ascent of Jiggers Bank, descend Madeley Bank, cross the river, climb Bridge Bank, through Broseley, descend Coalport Road, back over the river, climb up Sutton Maddock Bank then onto the A442 with a 8 km dash to a finish with a slightly uphill sprint in Telford Town Centre. That would give you 500m of sharp climbs sufficiently close to the finish to make it interesting.
 
Sep 30, 2014
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For me, it was a rather tedious race. Going to North Wales and doing two small climbs... well, it's disappointing. Logistics can be an issue in those parts but even so, that was a tame finish top the week I thought.

Clearly there is much that's good about the race and the riders do seem to like it.

Top ten for Drops’ Eva Buurman, de kleine raket, was impressive and backed up her excellent results at Thuringen. Go Eva.
 
Certainly the race wasn't in the toughest parts of the countries geographically, but nevertheless there are a few fairly easy tweaks that could be made to make a more selective race. Stage 1 you really can't do anything with I don't think - East Anglia doesn't have any selective hills and certainly none near Southwold, and I'm just happy they made a pretty safe run-in after the chaotic Aldeburgh finish a few years ago when Lizzie Armitstead won the stage then crashed out while celebrating, and the crazy Norwich finish in 2016 with about fourteen corners in the last 2km and a pinch point with 250m to go.

Stage 2 you could clone almost outright but make the circuit around Daventry shorter to get an additional climb of Newnham Hill in, to make it harder for the bunch to swallow that Niewiadoma/Longo Borghini/Vos/Rowe move, or incentivize them to persist more:



Stage 3 finished in an area which is very flat, and so there wasn't much they could do with the run-in.

Stage 4, however, they wanted to loop around Evesham to use Snowshill in tribute to Sharon Laws, for whom it was her training climb, which I understand - however they then had a very long looping section with very little climbing back to Worcester which neutered all the moves. There's the Malvern Hills the other side of Worcester which aren't huge by any stretch of the imagination but could be put close enough to the finish to incentivize some moves especially with a couple of hills back to back. My suggestion for this stage mimics stage 1's format of looping around and returning to the host town, because that way I can keep the sprint points that were used in the real life race, so the towns that paid up for hosting them still get them, making the stage fully achievable:



Stage 5 was the most disappointing because even if they can't use the toughest run-in around or many of the hardest climbs in Wales, at least in any way close to the finish, the run-in was a total letdown. Here I've cloned almost the whole stage through the difficult parts but instead of running down the Conwy river estuary, adding another climb on to the plateau and then adding a loop around Colwyn Bay with two ascents of a short punchy climb out of the town; the second lap is optional (we only cross the finishing line once before the finish, it's one-and-a-half circuits) - the finish is in exactly the same spot as the real stage, but facing the opposite direction. The punchy climb is part of the way up to Bryn-y-Maen so otherwise you could have a longer climb (the second half is gradual) and repeat the descent down from the 110km mark to finish in the same direction as the real stage.

 
Cille calling out the UCI again, this time on the fact that the big talking points of the Worlds course - the mid-TT climb and the super-steep final Gramartboden ascent in the RR - are both excised from the women's race. And if the talking points are not there in the women's race, then it changes the racing as obviously the racing on a medium length, medium gradient climb and on a short, super steep climb will differ. While the women have been short-changed in recent history - the Olympic RR in London featured just 2 times up Box Hill as opposed to 6 for the men, because the organizers preferred to have them start and finish in the city, and in Rio they only climbed the Vista Chinesa climb once as opposed to 4 for the men, they at least were using the same key note climbs so the race was comparable. In Doha, they didn't go out in the desert at all, where all of the intrigue was created in the men's race, so just had a pan-flat urban circuit to work with, and in Bergen they weren't allowed to put the climb in their ITT - and now this, with the all important final climb that everybody's been talking about only there for the elite men - sure this means they don't get to see it from other races first, but it also means that other racers do not have the opportunity to provide the same spectacle. I know we frequently get the "the riders make the race" argument, but in this instance that has two issues. Firstly, that the riders are not being presented equal opportunities to make the race, and secondly, that the lower awareness of women's cycling means it only has a few occasions with the kind of audience that the World Championships will undoubtedly attain, and therefore if women's cycling is to progress in terms of people's knowledge and awareness of it, then maximising the riders' opportunities to produce exciting events would be beneficial, rather than keeping all of the less interesting parts of the race and limiting the interesting parts, running the risk of perpetuating the "women's cycling is boring" fallacy that is continually brought up, citing a few disappointing high-profile events on lacklustre parcours where the men's races were equally boring.

I still think that the women will be able to provide a good spectacle in Innsbruck, and combative and interesting grimpeuses like Cille herself will be a large part of that. And with her climbing prowess and TT strength she'd also be in a better position to compete for the TT if the course was more like the men's one too, of course. But that's not to take away from the overall point, which is that whereas the circuit-based Worlds (Richmond, Ponferrada, Firenze etc.) offer equal opportunities, there has been an increase in recent years of unconventional courses for major road races, including variations on circuits, and many of the more interesting innovations have been included on a men-only basis. If you look at most of those circuit-based Worlds, when the men's race is good so is the women's (Mendrisio, Firenze), when the men's is disappointing so is the women's (Copenhagen).

To leave with Cille's most pertinent point:
The point is not that we want to be measured against the men. The point is that I want our routes to be as exciting as the men’s routes.
 
Mar 31, 2009
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Re: The Women's Road Racing Thread 2018

Hi,

I have a couple of questions:
From the women's races that I have watched over the years (admittedly not so many, partly due to lack of broadcasting), it seems to me that quite often there is an almost constant attacking off the front, but less often formation of a break-away that gets clear. It is as if in that moment when 3-10 riders are few tens of meters ahead of the bunch and they should tuck in frequently taking turns to push on and get clear, these riders keep attacking each other or sit up, both of which leads to no break being established. Of course this also happens in men's races, and or course sometimes breaks do get established in women's racing, but it seems to me that the frequency is slightly different.

1) Is this observation correct, or have I simply watched a non-representive sample of women's races?

2) If indeed there is such a trend, does anyone have an idea why that is? Shorter stages / less demanding parcour, different team tactics (do teams have same size as in men's races?), something else?

Come to think of it, even the men's worlds race often has a similar tendency with frequently people trying to get off the front but often no break establishing. If that is the case, it would perhaps imply that it is related to team dynamics, since at worlds it is largely the same riders but different team compositions.
 
Re:

Libertine Seguros said:
Cille calling out the UCI again,
[Long post]
To leave with Cille's most pertinent point:
The point is not that we want to be measured against the men. The point is that I want our routes to be as exciting as the men’s routes.
Also, imagine how spectacular the images of the men making it up the final climb are gonna be.
Now imagine if we could get similar images for the women.

That was actually one of her points in this article.
 
Re: The Women's Road Racing Thread 2018

hmronnow said:
Hi,

I have a couple of questions:
From the women's races that I have watched over the years (admittedly not so many, partly due to lack of broadcasting), it seems to me that quite often there is an almost constant attacking off the front, but less often formation of a break-away that gets clear. It is as if in that moment when 3-10 riders are few tens of meters ahead of the bunch and they should tuck in frequently taking turns to push on and get clear, these riders keep attacking each other or sit up, both of which leads to no break being established. Of course this also happens in men's races, and or course sometimes breaks do get established in women's racing, but it seems to me that the frequency is slightly different.

1) Is this observation correct, or have I simply watched a non-representive sample of women's races?

2) If indeed there is such a trend, does anyone have an idea why that is? Shorter stages / less demanding parcour, different team tactics (do teams have same size as in men's races?), something else?

Come to think of it, even the men's worlds race often has a similar tendency with frequently people trying to get off the front but often no break establishing. If that is the case, it would perhaps imply that it is related to team dynamics, since at worlds it is largely the same riders but different team compositions.
This is a fairly typical observation I would say; there is far less by way of the typical "break of the day" exploits and far more of the "attack - catch - attack - catch" until the elastic snaps in women's cycling than you find amongst the men concurrently. The lack of cooperation can often be for a variety of reasons - all of which are familiar from men's cycling; you're dragging somebody you don't want to bring with you, a GC rival or somebody who is threatening one of your teammates, you know that one of the key teams isn't represented in the break and it is therefore doomed, you want to forage alone or are afraid of one of the sprinters in the group if the break survives, you were just the decoy attack, and so on.

In terms of reasons for that, they do vary. One key reason I would venture to suggest is that women's cycling carries a few similarities to old style men's cycling, as after all we should consider the purpose of those traditional "break of the day" antics in men's cycling; a lot of the time when women's races have been derided as lacking in action this has been on flat courses where the only action in equivalent men's races is the very artificial forming of a pre-arranged breakaway that is doomed to be caught by the sprinters' teams - hardly a riveting day in most cases. Those 'break of the day' groups are predominantly made up of smaller teams and wildcards getting their sponsor some airtime; with so many women's races not televised or at least not televised until much later on in the race, the benefits to the sponsors of spending 2-3 hours at the head of the race is limited; simultaneously, quite often especially in one-day races, the difference in depth of the péloton and the concentration of many of the top talents into a small handful of superteams means that often the smallest teams in the bunch are not in the position to gainfully attack the péloton to the extent that they make 2-3-4 minute advantages, especially not in one-day races where the pace is often high from the word go. The lack of long-form stage races and shorter distances makes preservation of energy less paramount and so rest periods in the bunch that enables such a break to consolidate are less common; however we are seeing this develop over time as the Giro especially in its second half will often see some steaming hot stages where local teams try to salvage something from the race and domestiques on top teams will go up the road without any ability to threaten the GC but solely to take pressure off their own team in the chase; similarly, for the earlier reason, the beleaguered Hitec Products team made sure to contribute to attacks and make sizable solo breakaways in almost every stage of the Women's Tour, one of the best-televised women's races, maximising their opportunity for sponsor airtime, a stylistic choice they may not have made had they been in a stronger position financially.

Also, typically women's races have teams of 6, with 7 at the Giro often. This does mean, especially in the superteams like Boels, Canyon and Sunweb, there's usually only a couple of riders specifically entrusted with domestiquing. This often means that you will see high profile riders up toward the front of the bunch quite early on, as races where one specific rider is the team's chosen option and this is not negotiable based on conditions on the road are few, unless that team is comparatively small and its leaders' skillsets do not impinge on one another; Cervélo-Bigla, for example, are most likely to win races with Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio or Lotta Lepistö, neither of whom are likely to compete for leadership on the basis that most races Ash can win, Lotta can't, and most races Lotta can win, Ash can't unless the race breaks up far more than anticipated. Alé-Cipollini, on the other hand, have got two bonanza sprinters in Chloe Hosking and Marta Bastianelli, and they do quite often have issues with both of them contesting the win and neither benefiting fully from the leadout as a result.

That strength in depth is also one of the reasons breaks can often peter out; as a hypothetical situation, you have a break forming in a race with some of the biggest teams. A team like Boels only have a couple of riders at the most in any given race, usually lower in their hierarchy and developing prospects, who are expendable solely for chasing to help. The likes of Jip van den Bos or Anna Plichta fulfil these roles. If Jip's chased down the last break, you don't want her to just keep chasing until she's dropped, but you don't have many other riders who are full-on domestiques. But if somebody like Chantal Blaak or Amy Pieters joins that group, they don't need to expend too much energy to get into that group, and their presence makes it somebody else's problem as unless we're looking at a full-on mountain stage, of which there are few in women's cycling, they can say to the rest of the bunch, we think we can win this race with Chantal or Amy. Many smaller teams in the break may take their chances but others may not want to work with somebody as strong as that as winning the stage is unlikely against a rider of their calibre. A team like Canyon might counter-monitor the break, but it's got to be the right rider. If the parcours is flat, if they send somebody like Hannah Barnes, Boels may counter-counter-monitor if they fear Barnes' sprint, and the break goes nowhere as two major teams are chasing it down to put people in it. If it's hilly, though, Boels might just ignore somebody like Barnes as a counter-monitor, because they still think they can win it with their riders in the group, so somebody like Amialiusik might be a better bet. But that raises a second problem in that other big teams like Boels may fear that a rider who can climb like that going up the road in a hilly race is a set-up move for somebody like Niewiadoma behind, and they don't want to give somebody like Kasia someone to work with up the road, so the move gets neutralized for that reason.

A further issue is brought about by the fairly limited number of truly mountainous races, in that there's a proliferation of races where time bonuses can be important (especially a problem for the Women's Tour in its formative years) and so the péloton simply wants to contest the intermediate sprints as a result.

Overall, this means that both the number of situations where a much more high profile break than you would see in a similar level men's race over similar parcours gets away (often you'll find breaks with names like Guarnier, Brennauer, Ludwig, van Vleuten and the likes in flat stages when you'd ordinarily never see their equivalents in the men's péloton), because all of the biggest teams are happy with their representation in the group and none of the teams who want into the group are strong enough to pull it back, and the number of situations where the bunch has a vested interest in keeping the péloton together far longer, or pulling a breakaway back far sooner, than you would ordinarily see in a similar level men's race, are higher than one might be used to from watching solely men's cycling.
 
Re: The Women's Road Racing Thread 2018

National championships - best if we do this as a round-up I guess.

Austria
ITT - Martina Ritter took her sixth straight title, by a narrow margin over fellow 36-year-old MTB specialist Barbara Mayer, in a day for the veterans - nobody under 27 in the top 10.
RR - Sarah Rijkes was the smartest from a group of four along with Mayer, Ritter and another MTB specialist, Angelika Tazreiter, to take it by a few seconds.

Belarus
ITT - with the likes of Tuhai not having been built for the chrono, this would still have been easy for Alena Amialiusik had the field been at its strongest, which it wasn't.

Belgium
ITT - Ann-Sophie Duyck was the class of the field here and it showed on the results sheet, over a minute ahead of second-placed Kopecky.
RR - Lotto-Soudal eventually made their numbers count from a four woman breakaway after threatening to lose from there. Annelies Dom took the title ahead of Valérie Demey, with CX champion Sanne Cant making up the podium ahead of Sofie de Vuyst. Kaat Hannes had been part of the move originally but dropped back.

Brazil
ITT - high drama as just 3 seconds separated eventual winner Tamires Radatz from veteran mercenary Flavia Oliveira, with Ana Paula Polegatch fitting into the gap between them - very tight.
RR - in a hilly course, however, the domestic péloton could do nothing about a rider of Oliveira's class and experience, and she rode over 8 minutes into the bunch.

Canada
ITT - a narrow win for Leah Kirchmann ahead of Karol-Ann Canuel as the big teams' representatives fought out the head of the field. Kirsti Lay was best of the native group for Rally.
RR - Rally's strength in numbers counted better here, with 20-year-old Katherine Maine outsprinting The Cyclery's Kinley Gibson ahead of a 15-woman group counting all the biggest stars but three Rally and two Cyclery riders to run interference.

Czech Republic
ITT - domination for Dukla Praha as they took the top 5, with 22-year-old prospect Tereza Korvasová eventually triumphing over the more experienced Jarmila Machacová and Melissa van Neck.
RR - Machacová used her smarts to outwit defending champion Nikola Nosková at the end, with the chase hampered by the contention of the victory in the concurrent Slovak race, won by Terezia Medvedová with a good margin of over four minutes in the end.

Denmark
ITT - a friendly rivalry may break out over time between Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig and Pernille Mathiesen for this title, but for the moment Cille is the woman to beat, taking her third in a row. MTB superstar Annika Langvad was 3rd, close to Pernille's time, in a hotly contested race - 6 within a minute over 24km.
RR - a small group contested the win, with former World Champion Amalie Dideriksen victorious despite being outnumbered by Cervélo, who tried to lead Emma Norsgaard out with Cille as pilot after unsuccessful attempts to escape.

Finland
ITT - Lotta Lepistö is hardly renowned as an ITT specialist, but in the national scene she still stands above her fellow pros, with big gaps back to Antonia Gröndahl and Sari Saareläinen.
RR - 8 women built up a huge lead on the field, and Lotta was able to comfortably outmuscle them in the sprint to the line.

France
ITT - four in a row for Audrey Cordon-Ragot, but her reign may be coming to an end shortly - Juliette Labous is getting pretty close, and she's only 19...
RR - Aude Biannic of Movistar survived a few seconds ahead of a large group, containing most of the main contenders, from which 21-year-old Gladys Verhulst surprisingly outperformed the better known Dréville, Jeuland and even Roxane Fournier in the sprint to the line.

Germany
ITT - A close fight between Lisa Brennauer and defending champion Trixi Worrack ended in a third national title for the former, and Lisa Klein, whose skillset reflects Brennauer's somewhat, being the only other rider within a minute.
RR - a seven-woman break contested the win a few seconds ahead of the péloton, with another young Sunweb prospect, 20-year-old Liane Lippert, taking the victory ahead of even younger Canyon talent Christa Riffel and BTC's comparative veteran (she's 23) Corinna Lechner 3rd.

Great Britain
ITT - with no Hayley Simmonds or Claire Rose, the event was missing its two strongest specialists in the discipline, leaving it to the all-round pros. Hannah Barnes proved stronger than her younger sister to take the title.
RR - pretty impressive shock result, as in a reduced sprint, 19-year-old Jessica Roberts of Team Breeze, a UK national calendar outfit, took the title ahead of Dani Rowe.

Ireland
ITT - Over a comparatively marathon 35km, Kelly Murphy of the British Juniper team took a sizable win over defending champion Eileen Burns.
RR - crucially three-time defending champion Lydia Boylan missed the key move of 5 and finished over four minutes down, freeing up 39-year-old journeywoman Eve McCrystal to take her first title from the ensuing group kick, having been 2nd two years ago.

Israel
ITT - WaowDeals' Roten Gafinovitz took a convincing win over the country's other main pros, Omer Shapiro of Cylance and Paz Bash who is presently a hired gun.
RR - Shapiro beat Gafinovitz in a two-up sprint as they rode over a minute into a Bash-led chase, with all outside the top 5 over a quarter of an hour back.

Italy
RR - a shock result as Valcar-PBM's Marta Cavalli confounded expectations to squeeze away from the more established names, taking a two second advantage to the line ahead of a sprint impressively won by WWT U23 leader Sofia Bertizzolo ahead of the veterans Bastianelli and Bronzini.

Japan
ITT - as more or less the only pro in the field, Eri Yonamine took her 5th title - fourth consecutive - with a margin of almost 2 minutes over 43-year-old Miyoko Karami.
RR - with Hagiwara still some way off where she was five years ago Yonamine gratefully took her third consecutive double, soloing in three minutes ahead of Hiromi Kaneko and Dutch-based Tsubasa Makise.

Kazakhstan
ITT - no sign of defending champion Sokovnina, who's left the sport, so Natalya Saifutdinova stepped in to take her first title since 2010, by just 2 seconds from Faina Potapova. Quite a few promising performances from non-Astana riders to keep the team honest.
RR - here the Astana numbers counted, with Saifutdinova, Iskakova and Umutzhanova riding five minutes into the field before contesting the finale, which Saifutdinova took to double up her national titles and add to the road titles she picked up in 2009, 2015 and 2016 previously.

Latvia
ITT - a very easy win for Lija Laizane, the country's only contracted women's pro at present, 2 minutes ahead of prospect Viktoriya Sipovica and 6 minutes ahead of anybody else.
RR - an even easier win for Laizane, the Aromitalia rider simply riding away from everybody and time trialling her way around the course to a 19-minute victory margin.

Lithuania
ITT - Daiva Tuslaite of Alé-Cipollini took her first title with a reasonably clear lead over teenager Olivia Baleisyte.
RR - controversial Aromitalia leader Rasa Leleivyte dropped in to win the race after Tuslaite missed the move when she and Baleisyte got away; riding two against one they put minutes into Tuslaite before Rasa outsmarted the newcomer.

Luxembourg
ITT - a comfortable and predictable win for Christine Majerus, a minute ahead of the country's two other pros on the start list, Anne-Sophie Harsch and Elise Maes.
RR - an even more comfortable and predictable win for Majerus, four minutes up on Maes, six minutes on Harsch, and over a quarter of an hour on everybody else.

Netherlands
ITT - one of the tensest fought of all national titles this, with four world class riders in the discipline - so much so that defending WORLD champion Annemiek van Vleuten missed the podium. Rather, Ellen van Dijk took her third title and first in five years, ahead of 2015 champion Anna van der Breggen and Lucinda Brand.
RR - no sign of the jersey again, as Chantal Blaak successfully defended, and she's busy wearing the rainbow bands. Boels were able to play the numbers game from the group of 18 that formed, with their strength in depth better than Waowdeals, the only other team to manage three in the group. The marchers in orange also managed the one-two with Blaak soloing away from the counter-move with Amy Pieters then outsprinting Marianne Vos and Kirsten Wild from the remnants. Credit to cyclocross prospect Fleur Nagengast for making the selection, taking some serious scalps.

Norway
ITT - some positive coverage for Hitec with a lockout of the podium, led by Line Marie Gulliksen, and backed by Thea Thorsen and Vita Heine.
RR - Heine soloed in over three minutes up on a chase group of 8 largely consisting of her teammates, with Susanne Andersen sprinting to take 2nd. It's Vita's third straight jersey in only her fourth attempt at the Norwegian championships after changing her nationality from Latvia in 2014.

Poland
ITT - from 3rd to 10th 8 riders were within 30 seconds of each other, but they were some way adrift of Małgorzata Jasińska, the Movistar veteran taking the title ahead of Pawlowska.
RR - with no Niewiadoma and no Plichta the scene was set for Jasińska to double up, and she duly obliged, soloing in ahead of a group of the strongest remaining within the race, with 21-year-old track specialists Nikoł Płosaj and
Daria Pikulik rounding off the podium.

Romania
ITT - Ana Maria Covrig is the only current pro contract rider from Romania, and the gulf in class is evident, with the Italian-born rider putting over 2 minutes into 2nd place.
RR - one of the most one-sided races of the whole nationals period, Covrig's winning margin being 24 minutes in the end.

Russia
ITT - Olga Zabelinskaya takes what is, remarkably, only her second national title, by over a minute. Pleasingly though the rest of the race is for the young, with Kseniya Tsymbaliuk and teenage phenomenon Maria Novolodskaya rounding out the podium.
RR - former BePink rider Margarita Syrodoeva won a two-up sprint against Anna Potokina, not far ahead of a 6 woman group where defending champion Nastya Iakovenko was being leaned upon. Syrodoeva doesn't have a UCI team but she's only 23 and has some decent results to get a team.

Slovenia
ITT - these essentially were part of an earlier event, and were won by newly-Slovene Eugenia Bujak with a handy margin over fellow BTC riders Pintar and Batagelj.
RR - similarly, BTC dominate the proceedings as you might expect, but despite Bujak being able to outsprint basically any Slovene rider you can name, the team preferred to break the race up, which benefited Polona Batagelj, who won after she and Urša Pintar isolated Špela Kern, one of the only other pros not wearing a BTC jersey, and worked her over until dropping her, with Batagelj having the margin for victory.

Spain
ITT - the fledgling Movistar team's bogarting of top Spanish talent meant they annihilated this with all of the top 5, led by late convert Mavi García ahead of Basque climber Eider Merino.
RR - similar dominance saw Merino win ahead of teammate Gloria Rodríguez on an uphill gradual finish, which similarly allowed García to round out the podium ahead of Ane Santesteban who was being forced to chase three minutes back.

Sweden
ITT - Lisa Norden defends her title with a comfortable win over Emilia Fahlin. The other pros were well down, but there were some young prospects in the intervening positions, enticingly.
RR - Fahlin continues her standing policy of winning the jersey once every five years after 2008 and 2013. She outsprinted Norden in a two-up, everybody else falling nine minutes or more behind.

Switzerland
ITT - Nicole Hänselmann took a comfortable victory over 36-year-old Ironman triathlete Nicola Spirig and 48-year-old Marcia Eicher. Defending champion Marlen Reusser was 5th.
RR - It was a day for the offroaders, with Jolanda Neff taking the win in her first road venture since Rio, a few seconds ahead of a group of 6 led by fellow mountain biker Sina Frei and ITT champion Hänselmann.

USA
ITT - the evergreen Amber Neben, 43 years young and without a team, took the win and defended her title ahead of Tayler Wiles and Emma White in a narrow victory.
RR - A first stars-and-stripes jersey for the US' biggest current star, Coryn Rivera, outsprinting Megan Guarnier from the splintered remains of a 14-woman group. Emma White, 20 years young and riding for Rally, backed up her ITT medal with another here.
 
Re: The Women's Road Racing Thread 2018

Libertine Seguros said:
Belgium
RR - Lotto-Soudal eventually made their numbers count from a four woman breakaway after threatening to lose from there. Annelies Dom took the title ahead of Valérie Demey, with CX champion Sanne Cant making up the podium ahead of Sofie de Vuyst. Kaat Hannes had been part of the move originally but dropped back.
Cant almost made a real breakthrough on the road. I don't know if she panicked or tried to drop the others on what was effectively a gentle cobbled finish, but she sprinted with a very very long way to go and ended up leading out the other two who were on her wheel waiting to jump the whole time
 
Right... it's July, and that means it's time for the biggest and best race of the calendar, where the World Tour's finest racers will battle for supremacy tooth and nail on the hallowed mountains and across plains. Yes, that's right, I said they'd battle, rather than look at each other lovingly amidst a parade, so I must be talking about the Giro Rosa, rather than a three week cyclosportif for pros in France.

The 2018 Giro Rosa has, rather like the 2016 Women's Tour, heeded some of the criticisms of its predecessor; most notably Annemiek van Vleuten bewailed that last year's less mountainous edition which headed far further south than is common in the Giro did not give her or other elite climbers enough chances to make headway, although in each climbing stage the same trio of specialists would escape - van Vleuten, van der Breggen and Longo Borghini - usually followed by the same duo of Guarnier and Niewiadoma for good measure - so it may have been a moot point. That said, however, the organizers have seen fit to ensure that, after some successful formulae being developed over the preceding years, they have gone back to that well, including some serious climbing, although this particular edition is perhaps overly imbalanced the other way; Mara Abbott and Claudia Lichtenberg having both retired is a shame on a route like this, while if Emma Pooley had stuck around, this would appear to be an ideal route for her to right the wrong that is the most glaring omission in her palmarès too.

This year's is a northern edition, and it begins with a 15,5km TTT in Verbania, which hosted the finale of the 2015 edition. Completely pan flat, it will likely see some medium-sized gaps, certainly I prefer a prologue in this spot, as is well-known, but there will be gaps from day one here. The infinite transfers that characterise the Giro Rosa rear their heads again too, with a very long transfer to Ovada, north of Genoa, for stage 2, which is divided into an undulating first half and a flat second half with the introduction for the first time to the Giro Rosa of the notorious Giro GPM classification rule, which states that on any given rolling or undulating stage, points are given out on a single climb selected at random. This should be for the sprinters, but they'll need to survive some early selections. Stage 3 will be more to their liking, a pure flat stage featuring 8 laps of the same pan-flat Po Valley stage in the suburbs on the very fringes of the extended Milano conurbation.

Stage 4 sees the return of the race to large urban areas, with the stage starting and finishing in Piacenza, hometown of double World Champion Giorgia Bronzini. And it's a stage she would doubtless like, given that it ought to be comparatively selective with that climb in the middle, but ending with a reasonably clear sprint in mind. The following day the riders are almost back where they started, after another colossal transfer takes them back to Lago Maggiore, for a stage starting and finishing in Omegna, hometown of Elisa Longo Borghini, the race's most likely home contender. It features the first serious climb, a cat.2 from Lesa towards the shoulder of the Mottarone, but this is 35km of bumpy terrain from the line so while there could well be some racing made on that period, the difficult second half of the race could dissuade moves on the bumpy run-in.

After that, however, se armó un zapatiesto. Stage 6 begins in the area near Monza - so another long transfer back towards where we were at stage 3 - and runs into the Alps, with a Unipuerto stage that will see the climbers first test their legs, on a summit finish at Gerola Alta, a station on the way to Pescegallo, south of Morbegno and well-known to traceurs as it backs directly off of the Passo San Marco. This is the profile, up until 5,5km to go.



This is followed by something very rare in the Giro Rosa - a cronoescalada, from Lanzada to Alpe Gera di Campo Moro. Climbing over 1000m in 15km, this is likely going to be where the biggest gaps are created, especially from kilometres 8-13 which average 9%. The ITT matches the last 15km of this profile:



Never seen by the men's Giro, this will therefore be a pretty impressive spectacle. The last MTT the women took on in the Giro was on Monte Serra in 2007, and so very few who rode that day will still be around in the Giro Rosa 2018. Stage 8 sees another humongous transfer, taking the women from a mountaintop in the height of the Lombardian Alps to the Venetian lowlands just at the edge of the Po Valley, before a fairly undulating stage which nevertheless includes three climbs on a complex criss-cross route around the region, which also includes Marostica, home of Giovanni Battaglin and Tatiana Guderzo, and Sarcedo, home of Alessandra Cappellotto, Italy's first woman to wear the rainbow jersey on the road. The final climb is just 8,7km from home so there's a good chance of enticing movement in the bunch. Although at the same time, stage 9, while another Unipuerto stage, is the big battleground that the race has staked everything on. While the men are still winding their way northwards through what promises to be among the most tedious weeks of racing known to man, the women are continuing the ongoing trend that they lost sight of last year, where the women get to race on an iconic summit each year - from Madonna del Ghisallo, to Aprica, to the Mortirolo, to the Stelvio, the women are slowly getting their time to shine on the classics... and this year it's doubly appropriate, since it's a climb which was first discovered in racing by the Giro Donne - [urlhttp://www.cicloweb.it/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/18girorosa9.jpg]Monte Zoncolan[/url]. The women only did it from Sutrio in 1998, but now they get the full amphitheatre with the full monstrosity from Ovaro. I'm sure you don't need me to show you the profile but here it is anyway:



The final stage follows the recent formula that has worked well with Bèe in 2015 and with Torre del Greco in 2017 - a stage with a single medium-mountain climb before a descent to the line. It looks pretty interesting, and indeed the final climb looks pretty intriguing too, with some serious ramps, and seeing as nobody will have anything to lose here, it could well be a strong one to race.



With no individual time trial other than the MTT to Campo Moro, we do run the risk that once we know who the strongest climber is, she runs away with it, though there are no immediate obvious "all for her and not for the others" candidates like Mara in previous years. That feeling is only reinforced by the knowledge that 2015 and 2017 champion Anna van der Breggen does not intend to start, instead looking to test herself in mountain biking ahead of an assault on the World Championships, given the favourable course for her and the knowledge that most of the other world class climbers will have a very tough Giro in their legs.

For the most part though, everybody else is present and correct. Anna's absence does mean that only two former winners will line up - Megan Guarnier, who takes over as ersatz team leader for Boels-Dolmans, who won the 2016 edition and was fourth last year, and Marianne Vos, who leads her WaowDeals charges and who won in 2011, 2012 and 2014. The rest of last year's podium is there of course - Annemiek van Vleuten won the Unipuerto La Course race last year and was the queen of the mountains en route to 3rd on the GC, and Elisa Longo Borghini is also a former QOM, finished 2nd last season and has been the best Italian rider at 3 of the last 4 editions.

Of last year's top 10, the rest are all on hand save for Claudia Lichtenberg who has unfortunately retired (doubly unfortunate as she would have loved this parcours). Amanda Spratt will likely be the right hand woman for van Vleuten, but Kasia Niewiadoma will likely be the leader for her Canyon-SRAM team, having been in the top 10 of each of the last three Giri and best young rider twice; it was in the longer climbs of the Giro that she first made her name in 2014, but she's not really imposed herself on a world class field in this kind of race (she did win the Giro del Trentino by destroying a mountaintop finish, but the field wasn't as deep as this) and even despite having a former podium rider - Pauline Ferrand-Prévot would have won the race outright in 2014 if not for time bonuses and playing a loyal domestique to Vos on the final stage. For Sunweb, last year's GC lead went to Lucinda Brand; I would have thought this route would be too tough for her, but you never know; last year Cervélo-Bigla were cut off at the knees early by illness causing their stage racing leader, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, to drop out early; Ash is an elite climber and podiumed La Flèche Wallonne of course, as well as having finished 4th back in 2015, the last time she finished the Giro. Cille is having a quieter season than last year's breakout as she's much more tightly marked now, but she did win the maglia bianca for best U23 last season which is worth mentioning.

Other wildcards to throw into the mix include Janneke Ensing, the ever-combative ex-speed skater for Alé-Cipollini; Tatiana Guderzo, who has podiumed the race and taken the best Italian jersey as recently as 2016, who has left the beleaguered Hitec team and will line up for BePink (unfortunately no Nosková), Karol-Ann Canuel who has been top 10 while domestiquing here before, and in this Boels lineup which looks surprisingly light on GC threats with van der Breggen out and the rest of the team focusing around their allrounders save for Guarnier's mountain leadership, she may get more freedom than she ordinarily would; Amialiusik is the third prong of Canyon's mountain attack; and who knows, maybe this will be the time that Francesca Cauz remembers what she used to be and climbs like it's 2013? Other riders with decent climbing backgrounds to look out for include Shara Gillow, Polona Batagelj, Sabrina Stultiens, Kristabel Doebel-Hickok, Lucy Kennedy, Erica Magnaldi, Eider Merino and Malgorzata Jasinska. Oh, and 43-year-old Yevgeniya Vysotska has shown up for SC Michela Fanini.

So, that's the climbers; how about that sprintier first half of the race? Boels seem to be more keen on the flat to rolling parts of the race, with Pieters probably the sprinter of choice, or maybe Majerus. Cervélo have Lepistö, Canyon have left the Barnes sisters at home but bring Alexis Ryan, both Marta and Chloe Hosking line up for Alé, Giorgia Bronzini will as mentioned hope to have an impact on home roads, Jolien d'Hoore will be foraging for Mitchelton, Roxane Fournier for FDJ, Sunweb will be hoping for some more selective races so that van Dijk, Brand or Kirchmann can finish them off, while Kirsten Wild is here for Wiggle too.

With no other surviving Grand Tours, this is really the focal point of the calendar in terms of racing prestige, if not coverage and prize money. RAI have promised highlights, but how much we get is as ever open to interpretation until we actually see.
 

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