Road: Gent-Wevelgem; Trofeo Binda; Ronde van Vlaanderen; Vos to ride Sea Otter; Twenty teams for Ronde van Overijssel; SufferFest sponsors World Cup; Interesting Links — Track: Interesting Links
Now in its third edition, the women’s Gent-Wevelgem gained UCI 1.2 status for the first time this year, which was no real surprise as the race is organised in conjunction with the Flanders Classics organisation that runs the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the Ronde van Vlaanderen and several other highly prestigious events and which has been adding well-run women’s races to its events for several years now. It being a Flemish race, the 115km parcours takes in a number of short but difficult climbs including Baneberg (one ascent) and Monteberg and the notorious Kemmelberg (two ascents each). However, all the climbs come in the middle third of the route, leaving a mostly flat final third – and a flat final 10km that allows the teams to reconvene after the climbs and get their sprinters into position ready to race to the finish. Last year super-fast sprint specialist Kirsten Wild took first place, and she was a popular favouite for victory again this year – but with that new 1.2 rating came tougher competition than in years past.
Several riders made relatively-half-hearted attempts to attack int he first part of the race, hoping to gain a slight lead before the hills should the peloton be in a mood to permit them to do so, but the pack had other ideas and nobody got anywhere. It was 8okm into the race on the second climb of Monteberg, where the average gradient is 7.3% with a maximum of more than 10%, that a group of 27 riders got away from the pack. That group was then split again by Liesbet de Vocht (Lotto-Belisol), who took Roxane Knetemann (Rabo-Liv)), Vera Koedooder (Bigla), Janneke Ensing (Boels-Dolmans), Sophie de Vuyst and Anouska Koster (Futurumshop-Zannata), British rider Claire Thomas (Velosport-Pasta Montegrappa) and Lauren Hall (USA NT) with her when she attacked. Pooling their efforts, they rapidly found an advantage over the chase group of a minute; meanwhile, the chase group failed to organise itself and by the final kilometre the gap was 1’42”, then with the finish almost in sight Koedooder, Ensing and Hall decided they had the strength left to avoid a bunch sprint and escaped the group. Hall, who at 35 was one of the oldest riders in the race and tasted victory back in 2012 when she became National Pursuit Champion on the track, was fastest and beat her two rivals by a second.
Thomas (who is 41 years old) finished in the second group, recording +6″ on the winner’s time to be the best-placed British rider in eighth place. Wild, last year’s winner, was fastest of the main group and took ninth at +1’42”.
Gent-Wevelgem Top Ten
1 Lauren HALL (USA NT) 3h02’57”
2 Janneke ENSING (Boels-Dolmans) +01″
3 Vera KOEDOODER (Bigla) ST
4 Sofie DE VUYST (Futurumshop-Zannata) +06″
5 Roxane KNETEMANN (Rabo-Liv) ST
6 Anouska KOSTER (Futurumshop-Zannata) ST
7 Liesbet DE VOCHT (Lotto-Belisol) ST
8 Claire THOMAS (Velosport-Pasta Montegrappa) ST
9 Kirsten WILD (Netherlands NT) +1’42”
10 Nina KESSLER (Boels-Dolmans) ST
Taking place on the same day as Gent-Wevelgem, Italy’s Trofeo Binda is the second round of the 2014 Women’s World Cup and, due to its varied but balanced parcours that makes it almost unpredictable to pick a favourite, has become one of the most famous races in women’s cycling. This year, British star Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) – who won the first round of the Cup, the Ronde van Drenthe, two weeks ago – was widely considered to be in with a good shot at victory; but with riders trying to grab any success they can while Marianne Vos still away on her customary break from the sport following the end of the cyclo cross season there was no doubt at all that Armitstead would face some very stiff competition.
The parcours consisted of three circuits, the first of them 17.6km in length and to be completed once. With only a few small climbs along the way, the riders remained together and fans were able to enjoy the spectacle of a peloton riding en masse in glorious warm weather – a pleasant change to last year, when the race was hit by strong wind, driving rain and icy temperatures. The second circuit, also to be completed once, was 37.7km and featured two intermediate sprints which went to Anna Stricker (Astana-BePink) and Carmen Small (Specialized-Lululemon) respectively before the day’s biggest climb, the steep ascent of Cunardo. With almost 300m of vertical gain and with points on offer, the climbers took control and had soon piled sufficient pressure on the sprintier riders for some of them to start losing connection with the bunch. Ashleigh Moolman of Hitec Products looked good to make it to the summit first, but she was beaten by Alena Amialiusik who also took the Mountains title.
The third and final part of the race consisted on four laps of a 17.1km circuit featuring an ascent of Orsino – though the climb ascends only half as far as Cunardo (there’s a 100m climb just before it, too), it was more likely to prove selective due to cumulative effect. With the lead group whittled down to 69 riders, an escape group made up of Mayuko Hagiwara (Wiggle-Honda), Amanda Spratt (Orica-AIS), Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans), Valentia Carretta (Ale-Cipollini) and Lucinda Brand (Rabo-Liv) got away on the first ascent and found a 43″ advantage. Not far from the bottom they were caught – precisely the way in which this race keeps us guessing.
Just after the second ascent, Megan Guarnier, Brand and Chantal Blaak (Specialized-Lululemon) took control, but they also found the peloton was able to catch them on the descent. The same thing happened on the third lap with nine riders getting away, only to be caught as the fourth and final lap began – and then the big-hitters, the riders who started out with the best chance of winning, started the battle for supremacy: last year’s winner Elena Longo Borghini (Hitec), Olga Zabelinskaya (RusVelo), Ellen van Dijk (Boels-Dolmans), Pauline Ferrand-Prevot and Anna van der Breggen (both Rabo-Liv) and Armitstead formed a lead group created when Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS) attacked hard on the final climb, and it was clearly from this group that the winner would be selected.
In the end, as is sometimes the way in the Trofeo Binda despite the climbs, it all came down to a bunch sprint – something at which Johansson and Armistead both excel, in addition to their skill in the mountains, and although the other six leaders were still with them the final uphill stretch to the finish dominated by the battle between the duo. Armitstead appears to have found the best form of her career to date this season and seems almost guaranteed to finish the World Cup in a good position, but she couldn’t match the Swedish rider’s raw power and took second place, while Amialiusik was third with the remaining five riders from the lead group all recording the same time. Uphill sprint finishes are happy hunting grounds for Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle-Honda), so it was no surprise when she was the fastest of the second group 49″ later.
Armitstead’s time, which at 3h05’24” was equal to that of Johansson, was sufficient for her to retain the overall lead in the World Cup standings with 220 points. Van der Breggen, with 170, is in second place while Johansson is third with 155. (Full current standings)
Trofeo Binda Top Ten
1 Emma JOHANSSON (Orica-AIS) 3h05’24”
2 Elizabeth ARMITSTEAD (Boels-Dolmans) ST
3 Alena AMIALIUSIK (Astana-BePink) ST
4 Anna VAN DER BREGGEN (Rabo-Liv) ST
5 Pauline FERRAND PREVOT (Rabo-Liv) ST
6 Elisa LONGO BORGHINI (Hitec Products) ST
7 Olga ZABELINSKAYA (RusVelo) ST
8 Ellen VAN DIJK (Boels-Dolmans) ST
9 Giorgia BRONZINI (Wiggle-Honda) +49″
10 Elena CECCHINI ITA (Estada de Mexico-Faren) +49″
Ronde van Vlaanderen
The biggest and most prestigious of all women’s one-day races the Ronde van Vlaanderen takes place this Sunday, with 28 teams fighting it out on one of the toughest courses in cycling – it’s also the third round of the 2014 World Cup. 139.6km in length, it features numerous difficult and technical sections including cobbles and some of the steepest hills in West Flanders. The start list is not yet available, but will be published on the official website in the coming days.
Ruiterstraat at Mater (42.8km) made its first appearance in the race four years ago, is the shortest cobbled sector at 0.8km in length. However, some parts are very rough with broken cobbles lying in wait ready to shred tyres. Paddestraat and Lippenhovestraat at Zottegem (55.4km; 59.7km) are 2.3km and 1.3km in length respectively. Paddestraat is probably the most famous cobbled section and has a very long history, dating back to Roman times; it’s usually one of the most crowded stretches of the race. Lippenhovestraat, a few kilometres up the road, dates back to at least the 18th Century – parts are relatively smooth, other parts are very rough, as is the case at Haaghoek in Horebeke (70.8km, 2km length).
Flanders doesn’t have any high hills, but because the hills it does have are low the roads go straight up rather than in hairpins – which means some of the climbs are very steep indeed. Combined with the cobbles and often inclement Flemish weather, they’re what makes Flemish racing the spectacle that it is. The first hill is Wolvenberg at 42.7km, just before Ruiterstraat; it’s 0.645km in length and has an average gradient of 7.9%, but in parts reaches 17.3%. The second is Molenberg at 50.5km, with an average gradient of 7% and a maximum of 14.2%. Third is Leberg at 78.3km, 0.95km in length, average 4.2%, maximum 13.8%. Fourth is Hostellerie at 78.6km, 1.367km in length but less steep than the first three with its average of 5.1% and maximum of 9%. Fifth, at 86.7km, is the famous Valkenburg – it’s 0.54km long and averages 8.1% but reaches a maximum of 12.8%. Kaperij at 97.4km is 1km long and averages 5.5%, while the maximum is 9%. Kanarieberg, at 104.7km, is the seventh hill; it’s the same length as Kaperij but is much steeper with its average gradient of 7.7% and maximum of 14%. Kruisberg is eighth at 113.1km and averages 5% with the steepest section 9%. Oude Kwaremont is the ninth and penultimate hill; its average gradient is fairly easy at 4% (easy if you haven’t ridden fast for 122.9km to get there, that is), but the steepest section is 11.6%. The final, and most punishing, hill is the notorious Paterberg – coming 13.3km before the finish at 126.3km, there’s plenty of time for positions to change in the peloton and so the climb is unlikely to select a winner, but with an average gradient of 12.9% and a maximum of 20.3% it’s put many riders out of contention in the past.
Last year, Marianne Vos won – and ticked off another race from the very short list of events she hadn’t previously won. Vos is having an extended break from racing this year and won’t defend her title (see also “Vos to ride Sea Otter,” below), so we can expect to see some very tough competition among the other riders. Several names spring immediately to mind when one considers who might win this year: Ellen van Dijk is one of the strongest riders around and she came second last year – this year, with a powerful Boels-Dolmans squad to back her up, she’s likely to want to win and has the ability to do so. Boels-Dolmans is also home to Britain’s best hope is Lizzie Armitstead, who has found the best form of her career so far this season – Lizzie won the first round of the Cup, the Boels Ronde van Drenthe, and currently leads the competition by 50 points; victory in this race would give her a major advantage going into the next rounds. Emma Johansson, who was third last year, is always a contender – like van Dijk, she’s a very strong rider and has excellent back-up from her Orica-AIS team. Anna van der Breggen of Rabobank is in with a good chance, too.
Marianne Vos, who had planned to return to competition at La La Flèche Wallonne on the 23rd of April, has announced that she will ride in the mountain bike and road races at the Sea Otter Classic starting on the 10th of April.
Rabobank previously revealed that Vos would be putting mountain biking on a back burner in 2014 in order to concentrate on road racing. She won the Cross Country and Short Track races at the Sea Otter last year.
SufferFest to sponsor World Cup
In a press release, the UCI has announced that cycling video producer The SufferFest has been recruited as the first major sponsor of the Women’s World Cup. In addition, the two organisations will work together to promote the sport, with the races being advertised in The SufferFest’s gyms.
“The Sufferfest is well known for their effective training videos and the UCI Women Road World Cup is one of the most challenging series in any sport, so there is a natural synergy between our respective organisations. Bringing them together makes perfect sense,” said UCI president Brian Cookson. “Following the recent announcement relating to enhanced broadcast coverage, this is another significant development for women’s cycling and we will continue to build on the momentum we have established.”
This is not The SufferFest’s first venture into women’s cycling – they were a major backer of Kathryn Bertine’s Half The Road documentary film and have sponsored several teams.
Twenty teams for Ronde van Overijssel
Twenty teams have confirmed that they will participate in the women’s Ronde van Overijssel (UCI 1.1), due to take place on the 2nd of May – the first time a women’s event has formed part of the 62-year-old event.
The teams are: Hitec Products, Rabo-Liv, Specialized-Lululemon, Rytger, Boels-Dolmans, Parkhotel Valkenburg, Topsport Vlaanderen, Giant-Shimano and Futurumshop.nl-Zannata, Koga, Ronald McDonald, Jan van Arckel, WV Breda, Regio Zuid-Holland, Nordrhein Westfalen, Restore, De Jonge Renner, Endura, NWV Groningen and a Netherlands National Team. More information on the official website.
Olympic stars on show as tour passes through (Rugby & Lutterworth Observer)
Course records tumble in Southern Counties 10-mile time trial (Cycling Weekly)
April Galda wins Hamilton Crit, Bermuda (Royal Gazette)
Varnish focussing purely on track cycling (Yahoo Sport)