Sunday, 4 August 2013

Women's Cycling News 04-11.08.2013

UCI races this week - Route de France (Prologue, Stages 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) - Polspoel wins Erondegemse Pijl - Women's Tour of Britain - Interesting Links - more to come...

UCI Elite Women's races this week: Route de France (03-10.08)

Villumsen wins Route de France, Bronzini takes record six stage victories
Race Preview

Emma Johansson
Time trial results are frequently close, but this one was seriously close with the top three riders all coming within two seconds of one another. The top two, Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS) and Linda Villumsen (Wiggle-Honda), were even closer still: the Swede beat the Denmark-born New Zealander by less than three quarters of a second to take an early overall lead. While that lead may be tiny at present, we've all seen plenty enough evidence over the last couple of seasons to know that when Johansson takes any sort of lead, it's very, very difficult to take it away from her.

Prologue Top Ten
1 Emma JOHANSSON (Orica-AIS) 5'07.93"
2 Linda VILLUMSEN (Wiggle-Honda) +0.73"
3 Amy PIETERS (Argos-Shimano) +1.34"
4 Evelyn STEVENS (USA NT) +4.78"
5 Roxane KNETEMANN (Rabobank-Liv/Giant) +5.12"
6 Iris SLAPPENDEL (Rabobank-Liv/Giant) +6.73"
7 Nettie EDMONDSON (Orica-AIS) +7.61"
8 Tatiana GUDERZO (MCipollini-Giordana) +7.71"
9 Esther FENNEL (Germany NT) +8.53"
10 Pauline FERRAND PREVOT (Rabobank-Liv/Giant) +8.55"
Full result and General Classification

Stage 1
Giorgia Bronzini celebrated her birthday on the 3rd of August (well, to be more accurate, her legions of fans celebrated while she kept busy in the Route's prologue) and today she marked the occasion with a fine stage win. Don't go thinking it was a birthday gift, however - Valentina Scandolara (MCipollini-Giordana) and Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS), formidable opponents and both more than strong enough to challenge her despite neither being sprint specialists, made her work for it and fought her every step of the way to the finish line.

Giorgia Bronzini
The first part of the race, a long south-westerly route from Soissons to Enghiens-les-Bains, was uneventful - as expected, the peloton cranked up to a high speed early on and split, with a lead group keeping the high revs coming as smaller pockets of riders down the road traveled at their own paces in the difficult crosswind. When it got to the final circuit in Enghiens, everything changed and Bronzini, using the climbing ability she's picked up in races such as the Giro Donne and which so few other sprinters possess, used a small climb to take care of anyone who might otherwise have been able to produce more watts once the line came within sight.

This whittled down the contenders to around 20, but there were all-rounders still with the strength to rejoin and, before long, the Italian rider realised that her rivals had increased in number to 37 - fortunately, she had plenty of team mates to lend her a hand, while strongest rival Johansson had only one: Wiggle-Honda took control and Lauren Kitchen led her into the last kilometre. Coming round the final corner, Bronzini was in third place and she timed her sprint perfectly, taking off with 150m to go and finishing by the best part of a bike length.

Scandolara, Johansson and the next 34 riders received the same time as the victor; as the stage did not feature bonification seconds, Johansson remains General Classification leader with an advantage of one second. I said yesterday that when Johansson finds any sort of advantage it's very hard to take it away from her, but with so few climbs in this race she's going to need far more team help than she received today to keep Bronzini at bay.

Stage 1 Top Ten
1 Giorgia BRONZINI (Wiggle-Honda) 3h22'
2 Valentina SCANDOLARA (MCipollini-Giordana) ST
4 Thalita DE JONG (Rabobank-Liv/Giant) ST
5 Amy PIETERS (Argos-Shimano) ST
6 Pauline FERRAND PREVOT (Rabobank-Liv/Giant) ST
7 Elizabeth ARMITSTEAD (Boels-Dolmans) ST
8 Anna Zita Maria STRICKER (MCipollini-Giordana) ST
9 Linda VILLUMSEN (Wiggle-Honda) ST
10 Alena AMIALIUSIK (BePink) ST 
Full result and General Classification

Stage 2
Strong winds were again an issue, breaking up the peloton into numerous groups of varying size, but with Stage 2 being more than 30km shorter than Stage 1 at just under 90km the attacks came right from the start and continued for most of the way, making for an entirely different sort of race.

Valentina Scandolara
Valentina Scandolara (MCipollini-Giordana) made hers stick, placing 35" between herself and the pack for a short while; as soon as she was caught Alexandra Burchenkova (Russia NT) launched her own attempt and got even further away, riding 1'25" ahead as the race neared the final quarter. Not very surprisingly, it was Orica-AIS and Wiggle-Honda that brought her back: Orica's Emma Johansson started the stage with an overall lead of just 1" and will be wanting to improve on that, while Wiggle's Linda Villumsen is in second place overall - and with the run-in to the finish line featuring a short uphill section, her team mate Giorgia Bronzini, who revealed later that she and Johansson had worked together to orchestrate the chase, was a favourite for a second consecutive stage win.

The British-registered team's plans worked out perfectly yesterday, so they used similar tactics: with 38 riders approaching the line, Charlotte BeckerMayuko Hagiwara and Lauren Kitchen marked Orica and ensured nobody could make a last minute break while Bronzini and Villumsen waited it out to see what would happen. Villumsen hadn't been feeling her best and so, when it became clear that a pure sprinter was going to have the best chances of a win, Kitchen switched roles and led Bronzini around the last corner where the Italian was able to latch onto the back wheel of Boels-Dolmans' Lizzie Armitstead - and then, on the last little climb that suited her so well, she launched with 150m to go. Ashleigh Moolman (Lotto-Belisol) and Thalita de Jong (Rabobank-Liv/Giant) responded, but neither could rival Bronzini's power and had to accept second and third.

The first 38 riders crossed the line together and were thus awarded equal times; Johansson was fifth and retains GC leadership with a 1" advantage. Villumsen remains second overall, Amy Pieters (Argos-Shimano) is the leading rider in the Youth category and is third overall at +3". Bronzini, who began the day in 36th place at +31", is now in 31st place with her disadvantage remaining +31". Everything may change tomorrow as the teams start making the moves that they hope might bring them General Classification victory, and Wiggle-Honda certainly have plans to do just that - “Linda said that she was not so good today at the start, so I told her to reserve her power for the next stage when she feels better. So we’ll try something tomorrow because, if the wind is like today, tomorrow’s stage is longer and maybe in the final we can try to do something for her, to try to take the jersey," Bronzini said after the stage.

Stage 2 Top Ten
1 Giorgia BRONZINI (Wiggle-Honda) 2h12'10"
2 Ashleigh MOOLMAN (Lotto-Belisol) ST
3 Thalita DE JONG (Rabobank-Liv/Giant) ST
4 Chloe MCCONVILLE (Australia NT) ST
6 Elizabeth ARMITSTEAD (Boels-Dolmans) ST
7 Amy PIETERS (Argos-Shimano) ST
8 Pauline FERRAND PREVOT (Rabobank-Liv/Giant) ST
9 Valentina SCANDOLARA (MCipollini-Giordana) ST
10 Alena AMIALIUSIK (BePink) ST
Full result and General Classification

...after the stage, Orica's Nettie Edmondson posted a good-humoured Tweet demonstrating the sort of luxury that female professional cyclists so regularly enjoy:

Ahh the joys of women's cycling... But hey, at least we have a roof over our head! #glamour

...Team Sky's bus probably gets to stay in more luxurious garage!

Stage 3
Sandrine Bideau enlivened the first half
Much of Stage 3 was uneventful, with the exception of a brilliant solo escape by Sandrine Bideau in the first 60km - the 24-year-old managed to rapidly drive a two-and-a-half minute wedge between herself and the peloton and, though she was caught by the halfway point, her efforts to show the Vienne-Futuroscope jersey at the head of the race will have gone down very well indeed with the sponsors. Mindful of the fact that any riders able to replicate Bideau's break in the second half would get into the two laps of the finishing circuit at Mamers with a decent advantage and almost certainly have had a good chance of winning, the pack made the most of the unchallenging route and picked up the pace to prevent any further attacks.

Giorgia Bronzini said yesterday that her Wiggle-Honda team had plans to place Linda Villumsen - who trailed Emma Johansson of Orica-AIS by one second in the General Classification - into the race leader's jersey today, and right up until the final moments of Stage 3 it looked as though that's precisely what was going to happen. Orica, meanwhile, were out to try to preserve Johansson's lead and, if at all possible, strengthen it; being the masters they are at controlling a fast race, they made sure that the average speed rose still higher on the circuit.

However, there was one factor that neither team had foreseen - while the circuit featured numerous tight corners and was obviously very technical, what had not been obvious on paper was that it also featured a number of very short but relatively steep climbs: Bronzini territory. The Italian had shadowed her team leader  Villumsen into the circuit in order to support her attempt to take time from Johansson, but with the Swede keeping a careful eye and staying right on Villumsen's wheel it became obvious that Bronzini once again had the best chance at victory - she waited, then made full use of her stunning ability to accelerate uphill and completely overpowered Johansson to win by a bike length.

The first seventeen riders crossed the finish line in a group and thus shared Bronzini's time; as a result Johansson, who was second, remains General Classification leader with her advantage still standing at one second. Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans), 16th overall following Stage 2, was third and is now in 14th place overall with a disadvantage of +15"; Amy Pieters (Argos-Shimano) was seventh, remains third overall with a disadvantage of +2" and leads the Youth category. Bronzini, who started the day in 31st place overall, is now 29th; her disadvantage stays +31".

Stage 4 is the longest in the race and looked set to be little more than a transitional stage; however, with a straight parcours, it may prove to be the scene of an epic battle between Orica and Wiggle-Honda.

Stage 3 Top Ten
1 Giorgia BRONZINI (Wiggle-Honda) 3h22'17"
3 Elizabeth ARMITSTEAD (Boels-Dolmans) ST
4 Pauline FERRAND PREVOT (Rabobank-Liv/Giant) ST
5 Pascale JEULAND (Vienne-Futuroscope) ST
6 Alena AMIALIUSIK (BePink) ST
7 Amy PIETERS (Argos-Shimano) ST
8 Roxane KNETEMANN (Rabobank-Liv/Giant) ST
9 Valentina SCANDOLARA (MCipollini-Giordana) ST
10 Tatiana GUDERZO (MCipollini-Giordana) ST
Full stage result and General Classification

Stage 4
Lauren Kitchen
Stage 4 might have been the longest in this year's race at 140km, but it wasn't the most technical parcours ever seen in professional cycling and as a result the peloton remained largely intact all the way to the end despite some attempts by the USA and Russia national teams and MCipollini-Giordana to break things up.

Whilst that doesn't make for an interesting race over the majority of the stage, it does tend to set things up for an exciting bunch sprint - and when no fewer than 69 riders approached the finish in one enormous group, it was obvious that any riders not at the very front of the pack were going to have a hard time finding a passage through. Giorgia Bronzini, as we've already seen three times in this race and many, many times in the past, knows a thing or two about sprinting, though - soo do her team mates Linda Villumsen and Lauren Kitchen, who battled a way through until there were only 200m left; then, having delivered their Italian payload to the front, they peeled off, at which point Bronzini attached herself to General Classification leader Emma Johansson's rear wheel for a moment or two before launching into another victorious sprint.

Although she finished outside the top ten, Johansson retains the overall lead with a 1" lead over Linda Villumsen (Wiggle-Honda). Amy Pieters (Argos-Shimano) is third overall and leads the Youth category. Bronzini rises to 27th place and trails by 31" overall.

Stage 4 Top Ten
1 Giorgia BRONZINI (Wiggle-Honda) 3h23'44"
2 Melissa HOSKINS (Orica-AIS) ST
3 Roxane FOURNIER (France NT) ST
4 Elizabeth ARMITSTEAD (Boels-Dolmans) ST
5 Pascale JEULAND (Vienne-Futuroscope) ST
6 Edita JANELIUNAITE (Pasta Zara-Cogeas) ST
7 Fanny RIBEROT (France NT) ST
8 Amy PIETERS (Argos-Shimano) ST
9 Pauline FERRAND PREVOT (Rabobank-Liv/Giant) ST
10 Thalita DE JONG (Rabobank-Liv/Giant) ST
Full stage result and General Classification

Stage 5
As if four consecutive stage victories wasn't impressive enough, Giorgia Bronzini found the strength to take a fifth today - and by doing so equaled the record held by Jeannie Longo. Perhaps most remarkable is that she was still able to out-sprint some very fast rivals even after she'd mounted a solo attack lasting around 15km and getting her 50" ahead of the peloton roughly halfway through the stage. So Mark Cavendish is the greatest sprinter in the history of cycling, right...?

Amelie Rivat kept the race interesting mid-parcours
Once again, it hadn't been planned - Bronzini's Wiggle-Honda team were out to pile serious pressure on General Classification leader Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS) whose advantage has stood precariously at just one second ever since she won the prologue. That was accomplished, with the riders from the British-registered team taking it in turns to trouble Johansson once a first-half attack by Amelie Rivat of Vienne-Futuroscope had come to nothing.

Bronzini was captured almost as soon as the race arrived at the first of the two finishing laps, at which point her team mates Mayuko Hagiwara and Lauren Kitchen took over. Then, a surprise: Wiggle leader Linda Villumsen took over; a brave move that would have brought glory had she have been able to get away for a solo win but one that on this parcours didn't work. What it did do, though, was afford Bronzini a few minutes to sit back and recharge her batteries; she was able, therefore, to take Johansson's back wheel into the sprint and then power past her to the finish.

With the first 44 riders crossing the line in a group, the General Classification changed little. Johansson, who was second to finish, is still overall leader; Villumsen, who was 14th to finish, is second overall at +1"; Pieters, who is the best-placed Young rider and finished in 11th, is third overall at +2". Bronzini, despite her stage wins, is still 27th at +31".

Stage 5 Top Ten
1 Giorgia BRONZINI (Wiggle-Honda) 2h27'48"
3 Pauline FERRAND PREVOT (Rabobank-Liv/Giant) ST
4 Pascale JEULAND (Vienne-Futuroscope) ST
5 Roxane FOURNIER (France NT) ST
6 Chloe MCCONVILLE (Australia NT) ST
7 Alena AMIALIUSIK (BePink) ST
8 Elizabeth ARMITSTEAD (Boels-Dolmans) ST
9 Tatiana GUDERZO (MCipollini-Giordana) ST
10 Lauren KITCHEN (Wiggle-Honda) ST
Full stage result and General Classification

Stage 6
It's probably fair to say that the Route organisers' decision to try to avoid any one rider building up a race-winning advantage early on hasn't met with universal approval - in fact, even some of the most passionate women's cycling fans and bloggers have been so critical that they've admitted they find this race boring (I don't, but then I've been known to spend an hour watching a bike propped up against a wall).

You can trust Giorgia Bronzini to give us some excitement, though: the two-time World Champion, riding for the British Wiggle-Honda team, broke a world record on this stage when she won for the sixth consecutive time - something that has never been achieved in the history of women's cycling. "It’s absolutely unbelievable - I could never imagine this happening, but I’m happy and I must have good shape!" the Italian rider exclaimed after the race. The World Championships are only a month and a half away and, while the parcours with the five ascents of 295m Fiesole looks to favour climbers rather than sprinters, it should be remembered that Bronzini isn't a bad climber, either - with current champion Marianne Vos apparently feeling the strain after adding mountain biking to her calendar this year, a third title may well be coming Bronzini's way.

Iris Slappendel
As has been the case with many of the previous stages, the first half of the stage was uneventful. The second half, on the other hand, was livened up by an excellent solo break by Rabobank's Iris Slappendel who became virtual leader for a short while, and then by almost non-stop attacks courtesy of Rabobank-Liv/Giant, the USA National Team and, most notably, Wiggle-Honda, whose team leader Linda Villumsen went off on her own in the final 10km in an attempt to catch Noemi Cantele (BePink), Kristin McGrath (USA NT) and Grace Sulzberger (Australia NT), who had successfully escaped after Slappendel was caught.  Emma Johansson's overall General Classification lead would have been in very real danger if Villumsen was permitted to stay away but, in a replay of events from Stage 1, she was unable to rely on team support when she needed it most - when she discovered that nobody nearby was able to chase and bring back Villumsen for her, she had to expend valuable energy herself.

Meanwhile, Villumsen had Bronzini, who rode hard to support her leader - so much so that she thought she was finished on the final descent. Villumsen had other ideas, though: knowing both that she'd used up too much energy when she went after the break earlier and that Johansson would be hurting, she told Bronzini she might as well have a go and instructed the rest of the team to ride for her. Lauren Kitchen led her into the final kilometre among a group of 46 riders, and when other riders began to sprint they saw their chance: suddenly, a gap opened in front of them and Kitchen leaped into it with Bronzini on her wheel. Then, 200m from the finish, Bronzini took over, and once again nobody - even Boels-Dolmans' Lizzie Armitstead, one of the strongest riders around today, who came second - had the legs to take her on.

With all 46 riders in the lead group finishing together, there was little meaningful change in the General Classification: Johansson was fourth and thus retains her GC advantage of 1" over second-placed Villumsen; however, Wiggle-Honda have everything to play for tomorrow. Bronzini stays in 27th place but, due to having come 66th in the Prologue with a time 31" slower than Johansson, remains too far behind to challenge for overall victory tomorrow. Amy Pieters (Argos-Shimano) was third and is third in the GC; she remains the leading Young rider.

Stage 6 Top Ten
1 Giorgia BRONZINI (Wiggle-Honda) 3h29'04"
2 Elizabeth ARMITSTEAD (Boels-Dolmans) ST
3 Amy PIETERS (Argos-Shimano) ST
5 Alena AMIALIUSIK (BePink) ST
6 Tiffany CROMWELL (Orica-AIS) ST
7 Chloe MCCONVILLE (Australia NT) ST
8 Pauline FERRAND PREVOT (Rabobank-Liv/Giant) ST
9 Edita JANELIUNAITE (Pasta Zara-Cogeas) ST
10 Pascale JEULAND (Vienne-Futuroscope) ST
Full stage result and General Classification

Stage 7
The Route's organising committee opted for a parcours that some fans and writers have labeled boring in an attempt to ensure no rider could be sure of General Classification victory this year. It worked - Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS) has held an advantage ever since she won the Prologue time trial a week ago, but it's remained tiny at just 1" and has looked distinctly shaky all the way, with Wiggle-Honda seemingly on the very cusp of taking it away from her and giving it to their team leader Linda Villumsen for most of the race.

Linda Villumsen wins her second Route,
eight years after her first
It was a big risk, but it was one that worked: it wasn't until the final stage that Wiggle's plans finally came to fruition and, when they did, they did so in such a spectacular fashion that this might just have been the greatest end to any race this season - on the Col de Dun, the only notable climb in the race this year, the Danish-born New Zealander left the peloton behind and caught solo breakaway Evelyn Stevens (USA NT), then dropped her on the descent. Then, with the pack having to take more care due to weight of numbers once they'd made it over the summit, she put all her time trial and bike-handling skills to excellent use, tucking in and making the most of the greater space afforded by her solitude, becoming faster and faster and increasing her advantage. All she needed to win was two seconds, but instead she won by 5'53" - a much larger margin that all the previous stages combined.

It has to be said that the Route only just worked out, though: just like last year, fans who were following the Route for the first time wondered if it might be a sort of Tour de France-equivalent for women, something that despite the promises it always makes the Route has never been, and had it not have been for those incredible, record-beating six consecutive stage victories clocked up by Giorgia Bronzini, many of those fans would in all probability have lost interest and been following the Arctic Tour of Norway, Tour de l'Ain or one of the other six UCI Elite Men's races going on right now. Perhaps in 2014 we'll see the Route return to some of those big climbs it visited in 2012, the Planche des Belles Filles included. Perhaps it'll even venture a little further south to the Pyrenees, or east to the Alps. Send the race up those roads and excitement is guaranteed from start to finish.

Stage 7 Top Ten
1 Linda Villumsen (Wiggle-Honda)
2 Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) +05'53"
3-10 not yet available...
Full stage result (when available)

General Classification Top Ten
1 Linda Villumsen (Wiggle-Honda)
2 Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS) +05'52"

3 Evie Stevens (USA NT) +05'57"
4-10 not yet available
Full General Classification (when available)

Polspoel wins Erondegemse Pijl
Race Preview

Maaike Polspoel
Belgium, for many, is the true home of cycling; so, after many weeks without an Elite Women's race, the Erondegemse Pijl drew large crowds who were treated to a fine example of Flemish racing that was so fast and furious 48 riders were unable to finish - and fans will have gone home delighted after Belgian riders took first, second and fifth making them the most successful nationality in the top ten. Winner Maaike Polspoel's victory, her first of 2013, was a decisive one, too - she beat the rest to the line by 57".

Polspoel's team mates Sofie de Vuyst and Christine Majerus (who won the Sparkassen Giro last week, where Polspoel was second) led the pack over the line for second (enough for de Vuyst to retain overall lead of the Lotto Cup) and third, making the race a superb day out for Sengers. The next 80 riders recorded the same time as de Vuyst and Majerus, then Liliano Leenknegi came in at +1'27" and Nel de Crits finished things off at 1'30". Among the riders not to finish was last year's winner Adrie Visser.

Top Ten
1 Maaike POLSPOEL (Sengers) 3h05'07"
2 Sofie DE VUYST (Sengers) ST
3 Christine MAJERUS (Sengers) ST
4 Kirsten PEETOOM (RC Jan van Arckel) ST
5 Kelly DRUYTS (TopSport Vlaanderen-Bioracer) ST
6 Kim DE BAAT (Dolmans-Boels) ST
7 Daniela GASS (MIX Wetteren-Bourgogne-Scapatella) ST
8 Anna TREVISI (Vaiano-Fondriest) ST
9 Monique VAN DE REE (CycleLive Plus-Zannata) ST
10 Nathalie LAMBORELLE (Bigla) ST
Full result and General Classification

More details on Women's Tour of Britain
A stage of the race will be named in honour
of Laura Trott
Brian Cookson, current president of British Cycling, confirmed last week that for the first time next year there will be a women's Tour of Britain, to be held as a stand-alone event rather than in conjunction with the men's race.

Since then, more good news has been released by SweetSpot, who organise the men's race and will also organise the new event - most notably, that the women will compete for prizes equal to those offered to the men (very often, the overall winner of a women's stage race receives less than a stage winner in a men's race).

It will be, says SweetSpot's Guy Elliott, "the only cycling event in the world where women are not second best." Speaking to The Guardian newspaper, he added: "The goal is to wrap a social agenda for change in health and social terms around a sports event, to send a strong message to women that they don't have to be second best. It's a game changer. It cannot carry on, that we discriminate against women in sport from the age of 15."

Elliott also revealed that each stage will be themed - a stage running through the Hertfordshire town of Cheshunt, home to Laura Trott, will be named in honour of the Olympic champion.

Interesting Links
Emma Pooley remains frustrated at women's low status in cycling (The Guardian)
Jo Rowsell to have surgery on broken collar bone (Cycling Weekly)
High recognition for Moolman Pasio (SuperSport)

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