Saturday 29 December 2012

2013 Ladies' Tour of Qatar

29.01.2013 Official Site (more info available from Velofocus)
Qatar, Road Race, 392km
UCI 2.1

Stop Press! According to a press release published on the 28th of January, live coverage of the Tour will be broadcast live and worldwide by Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera is available via satellite, cable and freeview.

Broadcasts will take place daily at 11:30 (14:30 East Africa Time, GMT+3 hours). For more details, see Al Jazeera's listing by clicking here.

Hurrah for the end of January! There's still at least a month of winter to go for those of us in much of North America, Asia and Europe, but the good news is that after several months of hibernation (and cyclo cross, so it's not all bad) the road racing calendar is coming back to life and heading south to the warmer climes of the Middle East for the Ladies' Tour of Qatar, promising three days of top quality racing and more roadside history than you could shake a stick at.

Oh, and wind. Lots of wind - Qatar is almost entirely flat and, being surrounded on three sides by the Persian Gulf, the wind blows straight in off the sea and continues over the land unabated, whipping up the sand as it goes. Imagine someone set fire to a huge pile of sandpaper and you had to ride through it - that's what the Tour of Qatar is like. It is not a race that eases the riders gently back into racing mode, as they found out just kilometres from the start of Stage 1 last year when they changing direction and a helpful tailwind that had seen them set off at high speed turned into a searing blast that fried them in their own sweat for the rest of the parcours. 2009/2010 overall winner Kirsten Wild, riding for the Dutch national team rather than her usual AA (this year, she's riding for Argos-Shimano), won that day and became the first to wear the golden jersey after a group of eleven riders (whittled down to seven by the time they reached the final sprint to the line) broke away; later she would win Stage 3 in similar circumstances. However, finishing 2'20" behind Specialized-Lululemon's Trixi Worrack on Stage 2 meant Wild was never again in contention for a third General Classification victory - GreenEDGE leader Judith Arndt (now retired) was with Worrack at the Stage 2 finish and took the same time, thus gaining a 2" lead in the GC, and from that point onwards the battle was between those two teams. When Arndt managed to stay with Wild (and several others) for fourth place in a bunch sprint to finish Stage 3, her overall advantage increased to 6" and she had the race in the bag. A lot of racing had been packed into three days and Arndt was probably glad it was all over, as were the several riders who uploaded photographs showing what human legs look like after they've been sandblasted for 307km.

Kendall Ryan
For many fans, one of the highlights of the Tour is that due it being the first race of the season, young and less-well-known riders are out to show their stuff in an attempt to please their sponsors and prove to their directeurs sportif that signing them or keeping on the team was a wise move - Kendall Ryan (then 19 years old and racing for the USA national team rather than Tibco) lit up Stage 3 with a superb solo break that saw her increase her advantage over the peloton from 25" 15km into the route to 3'25" only 5km later, a truly remarkable achievement considering the strong headwind that day. Keep an eye on similar riders this year to see the stars of the future: they're the ones that make this race what it is.

One excellent piece of news is that, in these times when women's races are feeling the economic pinch and having to make cuts (or, in all too many cases, disappearing altogether), Qatar has actually grown - this year, there will be four stages rather than three as in previous years. Once again, the parcours concentrates on the north of the country.

This year, Qatar also offers us our first chance to see the all-new Wiggle Honda/DTPC Honda team in stage racing action. Owned and managed by women's cycling legend and Commonwealth gold medal winner Rochelle Gilmore, the British-based team is partly financed by Bradley Wiggins' Wiggo Foundation and boasts the sort of line-up that even well-established teams dream about: in addition to Gilmore, the squad is home to Laura Trott, Jo Rowsell, Dani King, Amy Roberts, Elinor Barker, twice World Champion Giorgia Bronzini (an ace sprinter and very much worth watching if she rides this race), Lauren Kitchen, Beatrice BartellonEmily CollinsAna-Bianca Schnitzmeier and Mayuko Hagiwara- a talent pool that looks likely to do for British women's cycling what Sky has done for the men. They'll be wanting to make their mark; expect them to do precisely that.


Gold - overall race leader (General Classification)
Silver - points leader
White - leading young rider


Stage 1: Museum of Islamic Art - Mesaieed 97km 

Chloe Hosking gets things under way with a superb victory in the desert

Having set off from the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha (25°17'43.64"N 51°32'21.11") - among the most iconic modern buildings in a city full of iconic modern buildings and home to a world famous collection covering almost one and a half thousand years of artistic endeavour - Stage 1 headed south  past the airport out of the city for 11.5km to Al Wakra, then south-west for a further 14km before making a pass of the finish line at Mesaieed (Umm Sa'id) after 33km. Riders faced a strong headwind on this section, perhaps a contributing factor in the crash involving Charlotte Becker (Argos-Shimano), Anna-Bianca Schnitzmeier (Wiggle-Honda) and Jo Kiesanowksi (Tibco) at 14km; fortunately, none of the three suffered injury and were all back onboard within seconds.

The first pass of the finish line at 35.5km marked the beginning of the first sprint and 2009/2010 victor Kirsten Wilde took the top points closely followed by Rochelle Gilmore (Wiggle-Honda) and Marta Tagliaferro (Mcipollini-Giordana). Next, the riders turned north-west and headed out into the desert, heading across open country - a change of direction that turned the headwind into a tailwind with speeds increasing dramatically. Several teams took advantage of this, putting fast riders with useful domestiques out at the front; this rapidly led to the peloton breaking up into four groups with a lead group of fifty out in front.  29.5km later they arrived at Al Wukair for the second sprint, with Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS), Chloe Hosking (Hitec-UCK) and Tiffany Cromwell (Orica) first, second and third this time around.

Some 10km further on, now back at Al Wakra, the race followed the earlier route back toward the finish line - which brought an unwelcome return of the headwind, effectively finishing off any chance those riders who had failed to secure a place in the lead group had of winning the stage. Much of this final section was straight, culminating with a 1.8km along a wide road to the line, which always promised a high-speed bunch sprint. The leaders had an advantage of 2'30" going into the final 10km thanks largely to Trixi Worrack of Specialized-Lululemon taking control and driving it along at a high rate of knots. A little later, Gracie Elvin (Orica) launched an attack; a move that, had nobody have gone after her, might potentially have been a winning move. It was not to be, however - Lisa Brennauer (Specialized-Lululemon), Liebet de Vocht (Rabo-Liv-Giant) and, most crucially, Chloe Hosking (Hitec-UCK) went after her. Valentina Scandolara (Mcipollini-Giordana) broke away from the chase group for an impressive attempt at joining the leaders but, when nobody was willing to work with her, she faced the wind alone and was eventually reabsorbed by the second group.

Chloe Hosking
Elvin, Brennauer, de Vocht and Hosking had 45" with 2km to go. De Vocht was first to launch, but Elvin and Hosking overcame her rapidly and started their own private race; finally Hosking - an ex-rock climber who packs formidable ability in the mountains and the sprints into her 1.61m frame - got the upper hand, finding a last reserve of power that Elvin lacked to gain a fantastic start to the season for her team.

Stage 1 Top Ten
1 Chloe HOSKING HPU 2h23'51"
6 Kirsten WILD SKI +10"
7 Simona FRAPPORTI BPK +10"
8 Shelley OLDS TIB +10"
10 Eleonora VAN DIJK SLU +10"
(Full result here)

Chloe Hosking is on Twitter - follow her here.
Chloe's team manager Karl Lima is also on Twitter and provides live updates from the races his team enter.

Stage 2: Camel Race Track - Al Khor Corniche 96km

Hey, who needs a team? Kirsten Wild overpowers with old-fashioned superior strength

Don't like cycling in strong wind? Then you'd probably best not book any cycle tours of Qatar - Stage 2 was a carbon copy of 2012's Stage 1, right down to a powerful headwind that strained the leg muscles throughout much of the parcours. Setting off from Ash Shahaniyah camel racing track (25°24'22.20"N 51°12'37.42"E) some 34km north-west of capital city Doha (25°24'20.66"N 51°12'39.51"E), the riders headed south-east for 2.87km on a flat road before arriving at a junction where they turned north into the desert and the wind, passing a zoo and game reserve at Lekhraib after 4km. Xiu-Jie Jiang (Chongming-Giant) and Audrey Cordon (France) got tactics off to a fine start with an attack at 8km but, both of them too far behind Chloe Hosking yesterday, the peloton showed little concern and only Malgorzata Jasinska (Mcipollini-Giordana) responded, waiting for the gap to half a minute before she successfully bridged. This initial section rises no more than a few metres but is very exposed, possibly once again leading to a hard time for the riders if it's windy.

Continuing north, the race reached a junction and turned left to follow an arrow-straight road north-west for 13.6km to a sub-station (25°43'31.04"N 51°10'15.93"E) marking the stage's first intermediate sprint, where Jiang took the top points with Jasinska and Cordon second and third. This led to a situation - with the gap now at a massive nine minutes, Jiang's bonus three seconds made her virtual race leader; Orica-AIS got on the case with every member of the team driving the pace ever higher to ensure the peloton made up time. Five of them - Tiffany Cromwell, Gracie Elvin, Amanda Spratt, Loes Gunnewijk and Emma Johansson - were joined by Chloe Hosking (Hitec-UCK), Lululemon riders Trixi Worrack and Ellen van Dijk and Kirsten Wild of Argos-Shimano to form a nine-rider break that took advantage of a change in direction, got away and reduced the gap to a more manageable three minutes - however, they couldn't catch the leaders in time to prevent them passing through the second intermediate sprint in the same order as earlier.

Then, 63km in, the three were caught; having worked so hard for so long in the wind, Jiang and Cordon could stay at the front no longer and dropped away, drifting back to the peloton. Now ten riders vied with one another, aware that - as tends to the way in this race - the stage was going to come down to a sprint finish. The peloton tried catch up so that the teams could decide who'd be in pole position, but Orica kept pushing hard and, at 10km to go, the gap had actually increased slightly - testament to Orica's tactical skills.

At Simsima, the riders continued straight ahead towards Al Khawr, the leaders attacking and counter-attacking one another all the way as they passed under the hundreds of pylons carry power cables away over the desert but, knowing now that the peloton was too far behind, they allowed their speed to fall off a little so as to save energy for the last dash to the line. Cromwell tried to take advantage, attacking with 5km to go, but was immediately caught by Wild; it was Wild who brought in Spratt when she tried her own attack a short while later. Interesting - Wild, with no team mates to support her and surrounded by a gang of strong Orica riders, was doing nothing less than taking control, bossing the race. She's enjoyed enormous success in this race with two General Classification victories to her name; was she going to go for an heroic stage win today?

Trixi Worrack made a splendid attempt at wresting victory
from an unstoppable Kirsten Wild
Worrack attacked next and, now that the finish was dangerously close, the entire group were on her instantly. Then Johansson tried, laying down sufficient power for Spratt to be jettisoned off the back and right out of the group, but the rest wasted no more time than they had in chasing Worrack and entered the final 300m en masse. Without the luxury of a lead-out - or indeed, any sort of team tactics - Wild opted instead for sheer brute strength, a technique not seen so often as it once was on this sort of parcours but one which, when it works, leads to spectacular victories. This time, it worked perfectly: Worrack tried to match her, but Wild was simply too strong and took the stage. Chloe Hosking, crossing in fourth place, recorded the same time and thus retains her 6" lead in the General Classification.

Stage 2 Top Ten
1 Kirsten WILD SKI 2h38'54"
10 Amanda SPRATT GEW +14"
(Full stage result)

General Classification after Stage 2
1 Chloe HOSKING HPU 5h02'33"
2 Gracie ELVIN GEW +06"
3 Kirsten WILD SKI +09"
4 Trixi WORRACK SLU +16"
5 Eleonora VAN DIJK SLU +18"
7 Tiffany CROMWELL GEW +21"
8 Lisa BRENNAUER SLU +1'38"
9 Rochelle GILMORE WHT +1'50"
10 Marta TAGLIAFERRO MCG +1'51"
(Full General Classification)

Stage winner Kirsten Wild is on Twitter, send her your congratulations and follow her by clicking here.
Race leader Chloe Hosking is also on Twitter, she can be found here.

Stage 3: Al Thakhira - Madinat Al Shamal 112.5km

Wild does it again!

After setting off from Al Thakhira (Al Dhakira on some maps; 25°44'9.50"N 51°32'6.92"E) on the eastern coast, the riders faced 60km of desert road crossing the entire country to the western coast at Al Zubara - this first section also formed the first section of Stage 2 in 2012, but this year is being raced in the opposite direction. Al Zubara is home to a famous fort which looks medieval but was in fact constructed in 1938 on the foundations of an earlier fort. It remained in military use until the 1980s, also serving as a coastguard station, before being restored as a museum - visitors are asked to make a donation on entry. It also marks the beginning of the first sprint (25°58'31.90"N 51° 2'42.01"E).

As predicted, speeds were high with a tailwind blowing the peloton across the country from the south-east, driving the average speed during the first hour to a blistering 48kph and encouraging numerous riders to attempt to take advantage with attacks - however, with the peloton reaching top speeds of more than 60kph in places, nobody could get away. Several riders had punctures in the first stretch, including Kim de Baat (Netherlands) at 42km, Rochelle Gilmore at 40km and British rider Katie Colclough (Specialized-Lululemon) 5km before the first intermediate sprint, closely followed by riders from Be Pink and Chongming-Giant.

Argos-Shimano worked together to get their riders into an ideal position to grab points at the sprint and their efforts paid off: Stage 2 winner Kirsten Wild was the first one through, Charlotte Becker was third while Hitec-UCK's Chloe Hosking took second. Then, just as the race turned north a few kilometres up the road, a crash - a big one, splitting the peloton into pieces and allowing a group of 42 riders to get away on the 23.5km stretch to Abu Al Duloof. With this group counting numerous big-hitting favourites among its number, the pace stayed high and it wasn't long before some members found the going too tough and dropped away, reducing it down to 18 at the 75km point.

Wiggle-Honda rider/manager/owner Rochelle
Gilmore crashed hard and was disqualified
The leaders kept up a high pace, rapidly inserting a 35" gap between themselves and a second group that included devastatingly fast sprinter Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle-Honda). Bronzini has spent a lot of time in second groups in this race; now she and team leader (and manager and owner) Rochelle Gilmore enlisted other riders to help them try to give chase; bizarrely, riders from rival teams with riders well-placed in the lead group seemed willing to chip in - a fine example of the unpredictability that makes women's professional cycling so fascinating.

At Madinat Al Shamal the riders entered a circuit and, 13km later, crossed the finish line for the first time, also beginning the second intermediate sprint - Lisa Brennauer (Specialized-Lululemon) took the top points at the second intermediate sprint with Chantal Blaak (Tibco) and Kirsten Wild right behind her for second and third. Several riders went down in another crash as they went through; Gilmore hit the road hard and reported after the race that she may have broken a collarbone. To add to her woe the judges, having apparently decided that she and Xiu-Jie Jiang's riding was to blame for the crash, disqualified both of them.

The chasers turned up the pressure and most of the lead group were caught, though eight riders remained out in front - a dangerous situation for the rest because, if that group could get into the final part of the race with a decent advantage, they'd almost certainly be able to choose from among themselves who would win. Because of that, the pressure was turned up even higher; the last of the lead group were caught with 4km to go and the riders approached the finish together.

Poor Chloe Hosking had awful luck with a front wheel puncture 500m from the finish - fortunately, since she was within the final 3km, she was awarded the same time as the lead group, mitigating the damage; unfortunately, due to time bonuses, she loses her General Classification lead and is now trailing by 3". Meanwhile, out at the front of the race Kirsten Wild, who set a new record for Tour of Qatar stage victories with a fourth yesterday (and also holds the record for most General Classification victories in this race), covered every attack and beat it with a fifth today - another superb effort by a rider who combines intelligence and strength and is one of the finest sprinters in the world today. Ellen van Dijk (Specialized-Lululemon), who had led until the Dutch superhero powered past her, was right behind her for second; Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle-Honda) followed for third.

Stage 3 Top Ten
1 Kirsten Wild (Argos-Shimano) 2h28'15"
2 Ellan van Dijk (Specialized-Lululemon) ST
3 Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle-Honda) +02"
4 Marta Tagliaferro (Mcipollini-Giordana) ST
5 Shelley Olds (Tibco-To The Top) +04"
6 Simona Frapporti (Be Pink) +05"
7 Trixi Worrack (Specialized-Lululemon) ST
8 Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS) ST
9 Gracie Elvin (Orica-AIS) ST
10 Tiffany Cromwell (Orica-AIS) ST
(Full stage result when available)

General Classification after Stage 3
1 Kirsten WILD (Argos-Shimano) 7h30'43"
2 Chloe HOSKING (Hitec-UCK) +03"
3 Gracie ELVIN (Orica-AIS) +16"
4 Ellen van Dijk (Specialized-Lululemon) +17"
5 Trixi WORRACK (Specialized-Lululemon) +26"
6 Emma JOHANSSON (Orica-AIS) +29"
7 Tiffany CROMWELL (Orica-AIS) +31"
8 Lisa BRENNAUER (Specialized-Lululemon) +1'52"
9 Marta TAGLIAFERRO (Mcipollini-Giordana) +1'58"
10 Lauren KITCHEN (Wiggle-Honda) +2'02"
(Full GC when available)
Kelly Druyts (TopSport-Vlaanderen) did not start; Xiu-Jie Jiang, Lina Shi (both Chongming-Giant), Rochelle Gilmore (Wiggle-Honda) and Liesbet de Vocht (Rabo-Liv-Giant) did not finish. Liesbet de Vocht's crash - image.

Stage 4: Sealine Beach Resort - Doha Corniche 86.5km

And the race goes Wild!

Stage 4 begans at the Sealine Beach Resort (24°51'37.76"N 51°30'53.00"E), a modern tourist site a few kilometres south-west of Mesaieed, then reversed the first section of Stage 1 to head through Al Wakra, location of the first sprint (25°10'43.96"N 51°36'12.82"E) and back into Doha for the grand finish at Doha Corniche. When the riders arrived at the Museum of Islamic Art roundabout, they continued straight ahead rather than turning right to return to the museum and crossed the finish line for the first time after 1km; this also marked the entry into a 6km circuit about which riders completed five laps. The second sprint began on the second passing of the finish line.

Unusually for Qatar at this time of year, the wind dropped considerably today, making the stage a different sort of race to the previous three - in an attempt to make the most of it, several riders and groups began their attacks within the first kilometres. Hitec-UCK put an enormous amount of effort into their attempt, hoping no doubt to help Chloe Hosking win back the three seconds she needed to retake the General Classification lead, but as the race left Mesiaeed behind and struck out across the desert for the coast the peloton was simply too fast and the riders remained together.

Kirsten Wild (Argos-Shimano) began the day with a 3" advantage over Hosking, but being a rider as wise as she is strong she knew that she should take any opportunity that came her way to win more time - and so a battle began on the way to the first sprint, with Hosking ducking into the Dutch rider's slipstream in the hope of slingshotting past for the points. Hosking has, on countless occasions, shown herself to be a remarkable sprinter; however, at 22 years of age, she doesn't yet have the experience or physical power of 30-year-old Wild and found herself simply unable to get past. Ellen van Dijk (Specialized-Lululemon) was on their tail and took third. With victory now looking more certain, Wild's Argos-Shimano team concentrated on providing protection rather than keeping breaks in check, showing no concern at all when a group of nine split off and headed away up the road - with best-placed rider Carmen Small (Specialized-Lululemon) setting off this morning with a disadvantage of almost four minutes to Wild, there was really no need to expend energy pulling them back at this point. Other teams followed suit; it was only when the gap reached 1'25" that Wiggle-Honda (presumably seeking to mitigate damages following the loss of team owner and leader Rochelle Gilmore yesterday) and the Italian national squad (presumably happy to grant a request for help from Wiggle's Italian superstar Giorgia Bronzini) combined forces and chased them down, chopping almost half a minute off the gap by the time the race entered the first of the five circuits.

By the beginning of the second lap, the gap was down to 45" and rapidly diminishing - though it still left Jasmin Glaesser (Tibco), Audrey Cordon (France) and Shelley Olds (Tibco), as the fastest in the break, to take the points on offer at the second intermediate sprint. The break's time out in front was almost over by the start of lap three with their advantage slashed to only 20"; when it fell to 15" Cordon launched a fine and picturesque solo attack, but was quickly caught by the super-fast Small. Jessie MacLean bridged and looked capable of overtaking, but as her Orica-AIS team mates were driving the peloton after Small and Cordon she then declined to go in case they went with her - probably a wise move, because Cordon had the strength to mount another attack towards the end of the third lap, though she couldn't fend off a counter attack by Lucinda Brand (Rabo-Liv-Giant).

As the penultimate lap loomed, Argos-Shimano decided the time was right to seize full control of the race - but Orica-AIS weren't about to let them have it all their own way and revealed themselves to have plans of domination too, as was seen when British rider Katie Colclough (Specialized-Lululemon) to have a go at a solo break of her own and found she had both Orica's Emma Johansson and Argos in its entirety on her back. Needless to say, she didn't get far. Lululemon now resorted to trickery, sending Small on another attack which then turned out to be a smokescreen intended to divert attention from an attack by her team mate Lauren Rowney over on the other side of the road. It didn't work: Argos and Orica were on Small the moment she made her move but were sufficiently alert to spot what was going on and stopped Rowney in her tracks too.

Kirsten Wild wins for a record third time
As the final lap began Kirsten Wild sat behind an Argos plalanx - and right behind her sat Hosking, whose Hitec-UCK sent Elisa Longo-Borghini on an attack in an attempt to tie up a few Argos riders, hoping to force them to expend energy they'd need to keep their leader safe as the finish approached. This tactic worked no better than Lululemon's tricks: Argos simply cranked up the pace and pulled the entire peloton with them as they chased and caught her, at which point her team mate Emilia Fahlin took over. This time it was Orica who responded, dealing with her as effortlessly as Argos had dealt with Longo-Borghini.

When the race entered the final 500m, the front of the peloton turned orange as riders from the Netherlands national team swarmed up, apparently wanting to assist Wild. This almost proved her undoing for, realising that the sudden increase in numbers would make it harder for any rider to get through, Hosking decided the time was right to begin what she hoped would be her winning move. Once again, however, Wild's greater experience and strength gave her the upper hand - while Hosking had needed to move to the other side of the road to select a clear path for her final sprint, Wild was able to muscle her way through along the centre of the road before fending off Brand and Marta Tagliaferro (Mcipollini-Giordana) as she sprinted away to a record third General Classification victory. Hosking took the same time in eighth place, but is second overall at +14".

Stage 4 Top Ten
1 Kirsten WILD (Argos-Shimano) 2h09'38"
2 Lucinda BRAND (Rabo-Liv-Giant) ST
3 Marta TAGLIAFERRO (Mcipollini-Giordana) ST
4 Giorgia BRONZINI (Wiggle-Honda) ST
5 Simona FRAPPORTI (Be Pink) ST
6 Maria Giulia CONFALONIERI (Italy) ST
7 Trixi WORRACK (Specialized-Lululemon) ST
8 Chloe HOSKING (Hitec-UCK) ST
9 Barbara GUARISCHI (Italy) ST
10 Pascale JEULAND (France) ST
(Full stage result)

Final General Classification
1 Kirsten WILD (Argos-Shimano) 9h40'08"
2 Chloe HOSKING (Hitec-UCK) +14"
3 Ellen VAN DIJK (Specialized-Lululemon) +29"
4 Gracie ELVIN (Orica-AIS) +29"
5 Trixi WORRACK (Specialized-Lululemon) +39"
6 Emma JOHANSSON (Orica-AIS) +42"
7 Tiffany CROMWELL (Orica-AIS) +44"
8 Lisa BRENNAUER GER (Specialized-Lululemon) +2'05"
9 Marta TAGLIAFERRO (Mcipollini-Giordana) +2'07"
10 Lauren KITCHEN (Wiggle-Honda) +2'15"
(Full General Classification)

Friday 21 December 2012

Equal prizes to be awarded at UCI World Champs

Women's cycling has been riding a wave ever since the women's road race unexpectedly became one of the most-watched events at the London Olympics - so much so that, after years of calls from riders and fans alike, the UCI today approved a proposal to award equal prizes at almost all men's and women's World Championships.

With races vanishing for lack of sponsorship while the sport's governing body does little to save them, the UCI has repeatedly been accused of not caring a hoot about women's cycling. That may or may not be true; either way, the new equal prizes prove that, when women's races are given the coverage they need, the sport gains strength and moves a little closer to getting the respect and being taken as seriously as it deserves.

The new rules will be in place for the start of 2013, meaning that riders at February's World Cyclo Cross Championships will be first to benefit. They do not apply to the Team Time Trial World Championships where prizes are funded differently.

Monday 10 December 2012

Women's Tour of NZ cancelled

2012 Tour of New Zealand winner
Evelyn Stevens
Thanks to the cost of new drugs testing procedures required by the UCI as it desperately tries to hang on to some shred of credibility following the investigation into Lance Armstrong and US Postal, the Women's Tour of New Zealand has been cancelled for next year as organisers are unable to find the estimated figure needed to comply with the new rules.

"The UCI won't allow Drug Free Sport New Zealand to conduct tests in UCI events in New Zealand, this means they will send a UCI drugs inspector to New Zealand, we will have to import all testing devices from overseas, do at least 20 tests during the five days of racing, get a license to export human samples overseas, send all samples to a laboratory in Sydney to be tested all at our cost, this is approximately $30,000 per event," race director Jorge Sandoval told the Manawatu Standard, adding that he understands the need for the new measures.

$30,000? That's a lot of money in women's cycling, with most organisers spending much of the year grubbing around for tiny sponsorship deals and trying their hardest to persuade new backers to come on board when they could have been developing and improving their races, which are then run on budgets that don't resemble shoestrings so much as frayed bits of cotton thread. In UCI terms, however, it's nothing - it'd probably just about cover the average professional men's team's annual laundry bill. There's probably more than thirty grand in small change down the back of the comfy sofas littered about the UCI's swanky HQ in Aigle.

Get your wallet out, Pat!
Following years of criticism, the UCI has declared itself serious about securing the future of women's cycling and helping it to grow and develop. It would be, surely, in their interest to do so - viewing figures for the women's road race at the Olympics killed off the misconception that there's no sizable audience for women's cycling forever; promoting and developing the sport would surely make it profitable and bring even more funds into the UCI's coffers. The Tour of New Zealand is a major, five-day, international event that attracts the finest athletes cycling has to offer and it's followed by huge numbers of fans around the world - are the UCI willing to step in and save it, either by stumping up funds to cover the cost drugs testing or by introducing a scheme to help races that can't come up with an extra $30,000?

We shall see. What's more, the outcome will let us know if Pat and pals really meant it when they said they wanted to help women's cycling. If not, they can wave goodbye to another chunk of credibility as we wave goodbye to another race.

Sunday 18 November 2012

The State of Women's Cycling 2012

Amber Neben
It's the end of another year in women's cycling. What a year it's been - the racing, as ever, has been first rate, just as you'd expect in a sport full of highly professional, competitive athletes spurred on by their own love for what they do rather than by their love of fat bank balances (and, if any women out there are thinking of taking up cycling as a way of becoming rich, think again. The salaries - if you're fortunate enough to get one, many "professional" female riders don't - remain a joke, as are the prize funds at most races. As an example, the winner of the men's Chrono des Nations received €5,785, the winner of the women's race at the same event received €379. The women's race was shorter at 20.87km, 43% of the 48.5km men's race; but Amber Neben's prize was equal to only 6.55% of that received by Tony Martin).

What's different now compared to where we were at this point last year? Not much, at first glance. The season got under way with the usual bad news that races were being cancelled due to organisers being unable to secure the sponsorship they needed in order to keep them going: the Tour de Languedoc Roussillon and GP Ciudad de Valladolid are two examples of races that are no longer with us (but, with luck, may reappear in future years), the Giro del Trentino Femminile was cut to two days from its usual three and even the famous Holland Ladies' Tour got into trouble with organisers announcing it might have to be cancelled until a new sponsor - the hairdressing chain with a long-standing connection to cycling, Brainwash - came onboard and saved the day. The UCI still says it's fully committed to women's cycling, but still seems unwilling to do very much: women's cycling, it claims, is insufficiently developed at present to justify greater financial input; however, it has apparently decided that rather than putting in the cash required to develop it, it will instead wait for a magical fairy to come along and start the process.

Emma Pooley
Perhaps the two biggest and most depressing stories of the year were Emma Pooley's announcement that she was considering leaving cycling, either temporarily or forever, and Rabobank's decision to pull out of the sport. Pooley, who has for some years now been one of the most prominent voices in the sport, indicated that she'd had enough of her well-thought-out and reasoned campaigns for the women to get a fair deal resulting in nothing of any consequence being done by the UCI and needed time away to concentrate on completing her PhD. Rabobank, which has enjoyed enormous public exposure from the highly successful teams it sponsors (especially the women's team, home to world number one Marianne Vos), announced it would be ending its long connection with cycling because it was no longer confident in the wake of the US Postal/Lance Armstrong investigation that the UCI was able to bring doping to an end. It would, therefore, be ending its sponsorship of both the men's and women's teams, in spite of the fact that doping is virtually non-existent in women's cycling when compared to men's cycling (it said it would, however, continue sponsoring Vos who, as the 21st Century's Eddy Merckx, is every sponsor's dream come true; Vos, being the star that she is, replied that it doesn't work like that and that she and the team come as a package).

Earlier in the year, British Cycling failed to notice that female cyclists competing at the top level of their sport are rock hard, stupendously fit athletes and, in a peculiarly Victorian way, mistook them for weak-willed delicate creatures unable to race on two consecutive days, so it tried to persuade the organisers of the Smithfield Nocturne to drop the women's criterium in order that riders wouldn't be too tired at a (British Cycling) event the following day. The thing is, the Smithfield Nocturne is massively popular event that draws thousands of fans (and generates new ones) in addition to - crucially - getting TV coverage, whereas the British Cycling race isn't. It is, therefore, simply too important to be allowed not to go ahead. Team Mule Bar Girls were first on the case and got a promise from the organisers that, provided a sufficient number of riders signed up, they'd go ahead and run the race anyway. Then, realising that they too could help, fans joined in by Tweeting, Facebooking, blogging and doing all manner of things that have required new words to be added to the English language over the last few years. The race was saved, and it didn't take very long to save it.

The Olympic Women's Road Race was watched by millions
This may yet prove to be the biggest thing that has happened in women's cycling in 2012: the rapid emergence of a new "activism meme" among fans, fueled at least in part by the unexpected success of the Women's Road Race at the Olympics which generated viewing figures far higher than anyone had hoped. We have realised that we do not have to be - and should not be - the silent partner in the riders/organisers and federations/audience triumvirate and that, as the majority of riders, directeur sportifs and race organisers are already doing all that they can, it's down to us to use collective effort to pressure federations, raise funds and get more people to races - by doing so we can help make the changes that the UCI won't, even though the millions of people that watched the Women's Road Race at the Olympics proves a potential audience exists.

Indicative that this is the case is the success of two new projects - namely the Women's Cycling Social Media Jersey and the Fan-Backed Women's Team. When the Media Jersey project began, organisers Sarah and Dan hoped to raise a few hundred dollars to award a t-shirt and a small cash sum as a prize to the rider decided by a poll (which ultimately received 4,605 votes, a fantastic response) to have done most to raise the sport's profile - within only days, it became apparent that they were going to raise enough to much more: the overall winner would receive a t-shirt and $500 and the riders decided to have done most at the Giro Toscana and the Tour de l’Ardèche and Brainwash Ladies Tour would receive $250, while the two runners-up would receive $100. Perhaps the first person to spot the emergence of this trend was Stef Wyman. Wyman is a man with a dream - he wants to see women's cycling become everything it can and should be and he wants professional female cyclists to be on equal footing, both in terms of recognition and salaries, with professional male cyclists - but he is not a dreamer: in fact, as the manager of Matrix-Prendas, the team he has built up through hard times into one of the most successful in cycling, he's about as much a realist as anyone could be. Back in September, Wyman wrote an article for Cyclismas in which he posited the idea that a fan-backed team, in which development would be driven by fans' passion for the sport rather than by sponsors' wallets, might be one way in which women's cycling could be taken forward. It was an idea that proved to have legs as strong as those on the riders in his team and he immediately began getting emails from people who were willing to get involved and provide funds; already the Fan-Backed Women's Team has grown to become more than just one team and is becoming involved with race promotion.

The general feeling is that we don't need to rely on the reluctant UCI - they're not going to help and we don't need them to do so; in the very near future, as a direct result, we might look back on 2012 as the year when women's cycling turned the corner and entered the final sprint into its glorious future. Despite the many problems still facing the sport, I'm more optimistic about the future of women's cycling than I have been at any time since I began following it, and I'm not the only one.

Friday 19 October 2012

Chrono des Nations

Parcours - the women's route is in pink (click to enlarge)
21.10.12 Official site
France, Time Trial, 20.870km
UCI 1.1

It seems incredible that the Tour of Qatar was eight months ago - yet the Chrono des Nations was the final UCI professional women's race of the 2012 road racing season. (Worry not - we now have several months of fantastic cyclo cross to keep us going through the winter months!)

Team USA's Amber Neben won last year (for the two years prior to that it was Jeannie Longo, who also won the first women's edition of the race back in 1987 as well as in 1992, 1995 and 2000 - she was eighth this year) and was easy favourite to win again this year: she did not disappoint her legions of fans with a stunning ride in slippery conditions, taking 28'34.38" to get around the 20.87km parcours and beating closest rival Alison Tetrick of Exergy Twenty12 by 1'08". Tetrick will be happy enough, however - her second place marks a return to form following injury earlier in the year. Edwige Pitel, riding for ASPSA Grenoble, may be 45 years old but put the finishing touch to a superb season in which she won a bronze medal at the French Individual Time Trial Championships and took first place at the Memorial Davide Fardelli when she crossed the line with a time 18" behind Tetrick, placing her in third place.

Amber Neben
Current Swiss ITT Champion Patricia Schwager, riding for a national team rather than her usual GSD-Gestion, was fourth with 30'03.71". Marijn de Vries was Déesses' top "rider to watch" tip - the Dutch woman has had excellent form over the last few months and a turn of speed to match. With the sad news that her AA will not continue into 2013, there was every reason to expect her to end the season on a high point and she did so with a superb fifth place, getting around the course in 30'`15.83".

An interesting fact for you: the Elite Men's race was 48.5km, the women's race was 20.870km. Some might say this justifies the men getting bigger prizes - after all, they did more work. Yet Neben won only €379, compared to the €5,785 that Tony Martin won in the Elite Men's race. In other words, the women did 43% of the work done by the men, yet the winner received a prize equal to only 6.55% of that received by the winning man. The total prize fund on offer to the women was €2,478, 16.55% of the €14,977 fund for the men. No matter which way you look at it, there's no justifying that.

The Parcours
The race began at the Place de la Gare on the Rue du Onze Novembre 1918 and sent the riders immediately into a long and mostly straight (except for the slight bend to the left near the end) 0.68km to the first corner; since this section sloped gently downhill spectators were treated to some spectacularly fast starts. The first corner was a tight right-hander into the Rue Nationale (D755) at a bar called La Tonnelle - while the corner was wide, the Nationale is one of the main truck routes in and out of Les Herbiers and with several small industrial units nearby there was a potential risk of fuel spillages on the road surface and most riders grabbed a big handful of brake going into it. Right from the first corner the parcours began to climb, then descended again after 2.25km; then climbed once more to the second right-hand corner 6.63km from the first at La Croix Barat, the highest point on the route reaching 170m above sea level after approximately 65m of climbing in 2km - an average gradient of around 3.25%, but more like 7% in places. This corner, more sweeping than the last, has had a traffic island slightly off-set from the centre added to prevent cars taking it at too high a speed, thus making it a relatively technical section.

Marijn de Vries
Once around the corner, the riders were on the D79 leading south for 2.6km to the third right corner. The road, like the previous two, is fairly straight with only wide, sweeping bends, but trees alongside are dropping their leaves at this time of year - another potential hazard when wet and slippery. The terrain descends for most of the distance, gently at first and then more steeply in the final third of the section before a short rise at the end. The corner is sharp, but with plenty of room for a bike allowing riders to negotiate it at speed. The following section, La Bonneliere, carries the riders through 4.29km into St-Paul-en-Pareds, a flat route with only a couple of 10m climbs before a descent over the final kilometre; other than more dropped leaves it looks to be free of conceivable hazards.

After following the Rue de l'Eglise and the D23 - more straight, non-technical roads - through St-Paul-en-Pareds, the race reaches a fourth right turn and begins heading north back towards Les Herbiers. The corner is very wide, not sharp and shouldn't cause any rider any problems; it leads into an initially bendy, then straight 2.82km section through forest to a roundabout on the D23, climbing approximately 30m over the first half. Immediately after the roundabout the riders come to Ardelay, a suburb of Les Herbiers, then reach a second roundabout after 1.58km. The flamme rouge is 400m ahead, then riders negotiate a third roundabout before coming to the final turn 610m after the flamme rouge. Another right-hander, this one turns almost 180 degrees around a mini-roundabout and is likely to be very slippery if wet; riders positing good times will be likely to take great care not to throw away their chances at this point when there are only 400m along the straight, slightly uphill Avenue de la Gare to the finish line at the Place de la Gare.


1 Amber NEBEN Team USA 28'34"
2 Alison TETRICK STARNES Exergy Team Twenty 12 +1'08 "
3 Edwige PITEL ASPSA Grenoble +1'26"
4 Patricia SCHWAGER Team Switzerland +1'29"
5 Marijn DE VRIES AA +1'41"
6 Cecilie Gotaas JOHNSEN Hitec Products +1'57"
7 Mélodie LESUEUR BigMat-Auber 93 +2'03"
8 Jeannie LONGO-CIPRELLI ASPSA Grenoble +2'15"
9 Ann-Sofie DUYCK Lotto-Belisol +2'16"
10 Lina-Kristin SCHINK GSD-Gestion +2'32"
11 Jutta STIENEN Team Switzerland +2'36"
12 Larissa DRYSDALE CS Groningue +2'58"
13 Martina RUZICKOVA SC Michela Fanini-Rox +3'05"
14 Mélanie BRAVARD Vélophile Naintré +3'23"
15 Aurore VERHOEVEN UV Angérienne +3:45
16 Coralie DEMAY Comité du Morbihan +4'03"
17 Johanna SMITH TF Languedoc-Roussillon +4'27"
18 Sandra LEVENEZ UC Carhaix +4'30"
19 Morgane CHARLES CSM Epinay-sur-Seine +5'00"
20 Julie AUGIZEAU La Roche-sur-Yon VC +5'03"
21 Danièle PAROT TF Région Centre +5'33"
22 Muriel RIDEAU La Roche-sur-Yon VC +5'47"
23 Marie TONDEREAU TF Région Centre +6'15"
24 Carole VALLEE VC Lionnais +6'30"
25 Marion SICOT TF Région Centre +6'44"

An open letter to Rabobank

Lense Koopmans is the supervisory director of Rabobank's Supervisory Board, a body that "supervises the policy of the Executive Board of Rabobank Nederland and the general conduct affairs at Rabobank Group and its affiliated entities. In addition, the Supervisory Board advises the Executive Board and is responsible for the appointment and remuneration of the members of the Executive Board." 

I have emailed a copy to Rabobank - if you agree that the Rabobank women's team should not suffer from the possible withdrawal of Rabobank's sponsorship due to doping in men's cycling, please feel free to copy the letter and send it under your own name. One email won't make much of a difference, but if enough women's cycling fans ask Rabobank to make the right decision we might be able to help ensure their future support.

Dear Mr. Koopmans,

First off, please allow me to apologise for contacting you in this manner - I have no doubt that, as the supervisory director of Rabobank, you are a very busy man. However, I am writing to you in order to share some thoughts on a matter involving your company and which is of very great importance to myself and to an ever-increasing number of people around the world, and reading this letter will take only a few moments of your time. I hope you will spare me those few moments.

You've probably already guessed that I'm talking about Rabobank's recent decision to withdraw from professional cycling sponsorship. I fully understand the reasons for this decision: like all cycling fans, I had hoped that doping was finally coming to an end in the sport and I am deeply upset at the recent USADA revelations that show it has remained a far greater problem than we thought. If I was the director of a company such as yours, I too would feel reluctant to continue associating my company with cycling now that doping is in the spotlight once again. I'd like to add at this point that the decision to honour contracts, now that it would be too late for the riders to find new teams, is admirable proof that Rabobank has a heart, rather than being simply another inhuman, uncaring giant corporation. Proficiat for that!

One of the reasons I admire Rabobank (the company and the cycling team) is your fantastic support of women's cycling. While I'm sure that part of the company's decision to become involved in women's cycling is that there were and still are very few "big name" sponsors, allowing Rabobank to gain greater public awareness from it than would be possible in men's cycling which benefits from numerous very famous sponsors, I've always believed there was something more to it, something related to the altruistic ideals upon which Rabobank was first established: a desire to help female cyclists get the recognition and equality that they deserve. The salaries you pay to those riders and the money you've put into promoting them is a shining example of fairness in a sport where many receive no salary at all and compete for prizes that are a tiny fraction of those on offer to the men. I like to think also that Rabobank was the first company to realise that the women's sport is not a less exciting version of cycle racing and that the riders are not weaker and less interesting than their male counterparts; that in actual fact women's racing is always every bit as interesting and competitive as men's and, sometimes, more so.

Women's cycling has never suffered from the same image problems caused by doping that men's cycling has experienced; yet the riders are subject to the same tests with the same regularity. The only conclusion, therefore, is that doping is far less prevalent in women's cycling. Imagine how women's cycling would benefit if Rabobank were to decide that the support it had given in the past would continue and that the reason was because so few female riders resort to cheating. Men's cycling will take a knock from the current scandal, then continue just as it did after Tom Simpson died and in the wake of the Festina Affair and Operacion Puerto - it might even benefit from the scar left by the withdrawal of Rabobank, which would serve as a reminder that when riders dope everybody loses. But if Rabobank stayed with women's cycling, the benefits would be enormous - it would be seen by the media to be the far cleaner, fairer form of cycling that evidence suggests it really is. With women's cycling currently more popular than ever before in the wake of the Olympics and Marianne Vos' superb victory at the World Championships, the news that Rabobank had decided to remain a part of it could do more good than all the money you've provided and then some.

I also understand that a final decision has not yet been made on the future of the Rabobank women's team (and I'm pleased to hear that you will continue sponsoring Vos, who is a hero to so many of us). I hope, therefore, that the points above will be considered - Rabobank has an opportunity to do women's cycling an enormous favour, and the increased exposure for the sport and the riders would surely make financial sense.

Many thanks for your time.

Monday 17 September 2012

Weekly Women's Cycling News You Might Have Missed 15.09.12

Bronzini ain't afraid of the big bad Fox - Polspoel leaves Topsport - Help Kristin Armstrong get her bikes back - Fan-backed teams: the future of women's cycling? - Unofficial, Unsanctioned Social Media Jersey  gaining strength - Ardeche rider reports and photos - This week's best pictures - Articles worth a read

Bronzini aiming for a third rainbow
"It's a tough route, far more selective than in the last two years," admits defending World Champion Giorgia Bronzini, "but I've trained hard for it and I want the rainbow jersey."

The Italian ace sprinter, who turned 29 in August, is expecting stiff competition however and knows that she might even end up surrendering her chances to someone from her own team: "If it's a really hard race and the peloton is split apart, it might be down to Elisa Longo-Borghini or Noemi Cantele to try to get away to the finish line - but I'll try to stay as close as possible, and we'll just have to see if it ends with a sprint."

Marianne Vos won the Worlds in 2006 and tried unsuccessfully to repeat her success ever since; but it's a well known fact that, sooner or later, Marianne Vos wins everything - having come so close last year, the Dutch phenomenon is the favourite for 2012. Bronzini knows this, but refuses to be intimidated: "She was also the favourite the last two years. Which I won," she says.

Polspoel to Sengers
All-rounder Maaike Polspoel will depart Topsport Vlaanderen-Ridley at the end of the season and will move to Sengers. The decision may be linked to being overlooked for the Belgian team going to the World Championships, rather a mysterious decision by the selection committee as the 23-year-old has had some excellent results this year the hilly Limburg parcours seems suited to her.

Kristin Armstrong's Felt bikes stolen
If you should happen to be offered a very nice Felt bike at a price that seems too good to be true, you might want to get in contact with Exergy Twenty12 - there's a reasonable chance that they belong to Kristin Armstrong. The bikes were stolen whilst in transit somewhere between Germany and the USA and could therefore turn up in Europe or North America and the team is offering a reward for information that leads to their recovery. More details here.

The future of women's cycling...?
Stef Wyman, manager of highly successful British women's team Matrix Fitness-Prendas, wrote an article for Cyclismas on how fans can help the sport to develop recently. You can read it here.

Stef Wyman - knows what he's
talking about
Anyone who knows anything about women's cycling knows that Stef knows what he's talking about - he's nurtured the team from day one and enabled it to grow bigger and better every year, despite no doubt going through some tough times when he must have been tempted to give it all up.  But Stef doesn't run his team as a side-project or simply in the hope of putting together an impressive cv for future job applications to big budget men's teams; he does it out of a genuine love for women's cycling. He is, therefore, dreaming of the next step - and he dreams big. What he wants to do, no less, is develop his team into "UK’s primary racing academy for women," no less, thus driving and promoting the sport here and abroad and helping the athletes to get the fair deal that they so fully deserve.

In his article, he suggested that one way to do this might be to have a fan-backed team, ie one in which salaries and team development is funded by commercial sponsors while donations made by fan are put towards promoting the team and other uses agreed between team management and a committee of the fans themselves. The very same night the article was published, the article grew a pair of legs that any pro rider would be proud of - within a day, it started happening.

This could be the future of women's cycling, the way in which the exposure and coverage that the sport needs and isn't getting from elsewhere will be paid for and provided. The women's road race at the Olympics showed that there is a market for women's cycling - with £14,000 raised in only four days, this project might be the turning point from which women's cycling grows into what it has the potential to be. Read more about it at the Matrix-Prendas website.

Unofficial, Unsanctioned Social Media Jersey goes from strength to strength
In the week's second fan power story, the prize fund for the all new UUSMJ - which consists entirely of donations made by fans - now stands at more than $2000; enough to be split into a number of prizes. Since it's considerably more than the total prize fund on offer at many women's races, it now has the potential to make a very real difference to the riders that win it.

Got an idea who you think deserves it? Votes can now be cast at the Unofficial, Unsanctioned Women's UCI Cycling Blog.

Riders' reports and photos from the Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l'Ardèche
Marijn de Vries 1 / 2 / 3
Leah Kirchmann
Sara Olsson

The week in pictures
Sengers riders training for the Worlds (@Bartoli84)

Worth a read
The Role of Fans in Women's Cycling (Stef Wyman)
Immersion in the heart of women's cycling (Christophe Edelaine, manager of the Ardeche mixed international team)
Ridley Asteria 1106a review (Triradar)

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Help Kristin get her bikes back

If you should happen to be offered a very nice Felt bike at a price that seems too good to be true, you might want to get in contact with Exergy Twenty12 - there's a reasonable chance that they belong to Kristin Armstrong. The bikes were stolen whilst in transit somewhere between Germany and the USA and could therefore turn up in Europe or North America. More details here.

The bikes are as follows:

Felt DA Time Trial Bike / Pic2 / Pic3
Frameset: Felt DA1 51cm, Custom Kristin Armstrong/USA Paint Scheme
Group: SRAM RED 2012
Cranks: SRAM BB30 w/SRM Powermeter
Chainrings: SRAM TT 54/42
Aerobars: Zipp VukaBull Basebar with Carbon Race Vuka Shift Extensions TT Shifters: SRAM 900 TT
Shift Cables: Gore Ride-On Ultra Light
Brake Cables: Gore Ride-on
Front Wheel: Zipp 808 Firecrest Tubular
Rear Wheel: Zipp Super-9 Disc Tubular
Tyres: Vittoria Crono 22mm
Saddle: fi’zi:k Ares TT Specific
Pedals/Cleats: Speedplay Nanogram Zero (not with stolen bike – only thing that made it back to Boise)
K-EDGE Pro Chain Catcher
Kristin Armstrong name on top tube

Felt F1 Road Bike
Frameset: Felt F1 54cm, Custom Kristin Armstrong Paint Scheme
Group: SRAM RED 2012
Cranks: SRAM RED w/SRM Powermeter
Bottom Bracket: SRAM Red GXP Ceramic Bearings
Chainrings: SRAM Red 50/34
Cassette: SRAM RED 2012 11-26T
Stem: Zipp Service Course SL 110mm
Bars: Zipp Service Course CSL 42cm
Shift Cables: Gore Ride-On
Wheels: Zipp 404 Firecrest Tubular
Tyres: Vittoria Corsa CX
Saddle: fi’zi:k Antares
Pedals/Cleats: Speedplay Nanogram Zero
K-EDGE Pro Chain Catcher
K-EDGE Number Holder
Arundel Carbon Bottle Cage

Chances are a few bits and pieces will be removed or swapped for other bits in an attempt to disguise them, but with such a collection of top-notch parts the thief won't want to change too much for fear of reducing the value. The team is offering "a substantial reward" for productive leads; you'll also earn the gratitude of one of the greatest cyclists the world has ever seen.

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Who will win the World Road Race Championship?

I'm not going to bother writing any coverage of the Worlds, because it's one of the few women's races with a high enough profile to get the sort of media attention that all the other big races ought to get too - but I wouldn't want to miss an opportunity to wish good luck to the best rider, male of female, I've seen in the three decades I've followed professional cycling.

Succes gewenst, Marianne!

Monday 3 September 2012

Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l'Ardèche

Click to enlarge
03-08.09 Official site Facebook Twitter
France, prologue + 6 stages, 555.3km
UCI 2.2

↓↓↓Results, jerseys, how to follow, parcours, starters, weather↓↓↓

France, as all cycling fans are well aware, is a very beautiful country indeed. Ardèche is stupefyingly beautiful even by French standards - what better place to hold a bike race?

It's challenging country too, however, with a number of difficult climbs right from Stage 1 (the Prologue is more-or-less flat): even the Stage 2 time trial has a 65m climb in the first kilometre (average gradient 6.5%), which makes life very difficult for the typical TT specialists. The tallest peaks along the way are the Col de la Croix Millet in Stage 3, topping out at 775m with some sections around 15%; Au Crucifix (706m), Col de la Faye (1,021m) and Col des Quatre Vios (1,095m) in Stage 4 (all surpassing 15% in sections); GPM2 (770m) and Col de la Benas (804m), maximum gradient 10%, in Stage 5 and the Sommet de Laoul (402m) and Sommet du Serre de Tourre (320m) in Stage 6.

It's no wonder that Emma Pooley won last year, and it's a safe bet that a climber will win this year too - of the twelve categorised climbs along the parcours, eight are rated Category 1 and there's even a climb with an average gradient of 6.5% in the Stage 3 time trial. However, there remains plenty of opportunity for the other riders to pick up points with three intermediate sprints on each of the five mass-start stages and three stages upon which a sprinter might stand a chance of winning. In addition, the organisers have placed a prime offering bonus points 10km into each stage, commemorating the fact that 2012 is the tenth anniversary of the race, and there are extra primes in Stages 3 (named in honour of Thierry Claveryrolat, who died this week in 1999) and 5 (named in honour of 1960 Milan-San Remo winner René Privat).

Jerseys: Leader - pink; Mountains - polka dot; Sprints - purple; Youth - white; Combined - blue; Points - green. Extra points will be awarded to the most combative rider after each stage.

How to follow the race: The official site will - hopefully - publish news and results daily (you can also check here for daily reports, of course), though this seems to be far from guaranteed with many women's races these days. #TCFIA seems to have been selected as the preferred Twitter hashtag, the official race Twitter is here. #womenscycling may provide further news; Be Pink and Lotto-Belisol tend to go above and beyond the call of duty in keeping fans informed as to what's going on via their Twitter feeds.

Prologue, 2.4km, 03.09
Click to enlarge
This is everything a prologue ought to be - short, flat and very, very fast. Having started on the Rue Jean Jaure at a little public square, the riders followed the road as it bent gently left and then rose slightly towards a short cobbled section, then bent right and right again onto the Boulevard Peschaire-Alizon after 0.15km. From this point, they had a fast, straight 0.83km route south-west to the L'Ardèche river - with a small downhill section over the final 0.1m, they needed to grab a big handful of brake to make it safely around the roundabout leading right onto the D290, which first descended and then curved gradually right for 1.06km until it reached a roundabout on the D579 Bourdaric. Le Bourdaric continued for 0.26km, taking the riders to a crossroads where the road became the Rue Jean Jaure, with the finish line located by an Esso petrol station a short way beyond the crossroads.

It was a simple parcours with the corner onto the narrow Boulevard Peschaire-Alizon the only technical spot. It was also too short for those little climbs to cause problems no matter how much effort the riders put in on the other sections - so, as expected, spectators were treated to some extremely fast performances.

Prologue result
1. Cecilie Gotaas Johnsen (Norway) 03'09"
2. Kristin McGrath (USA) +01"
3. Amélie Rivat (Vienne Futuroscope) +05"
4. Joëlle Numainville (Canada) ST
5. Ashleigh Moolman (Lotto-Belisol) ST
6. Latoya Brulee (Mixed 2) +06"
7. Aude Biannic (France) ST
8. Audrey Cordon (Vienne Futuroscope) +07"
9. Roxane Fournier (Vienne Futuroscope) ST
10. Tayler Wiles (USA) ST
Full Prologue result

Category leaders: Points: Kristin McGrath (USA); Sprints: Joëlle Numainville (CAN); Youth: Aude Biannic (FRA); Combined: Ashleigh Moolman (LBL).

Click to enlarge
Stage 1, 125.6km, 04.09
Sprints: 34.2km, 76.1km, 94.9km; GPM: 100.3km (Cat 3); Prime: 10km.
Sandwiched between two time trials, Stage 1 dropped the riders straight in at the deep end with a whopping 125.6km road race taking in three tough-looking non-categorised climbs in the first half and a Cat 3 to 255m in the second. Marijn de Vries, riding for the International Team, reported that conditions were windier than expected at the start of the stage.

The stage began at Rochegude, then descended for the first couple of kilometres before climbing to the bonus prime at 10km - prime breakaway country, it seemed, and numerous riders could be seen trying to get away. Combined with the cross winds, the peloton soon began to look rather ragged and started splitting into small groups. A short descent leading to the 15km point took the riders through rolling countryside to the first intermediate sprint at 34.2km, then they climbed 101m over the next 15.4km before descending 105m in 8.7km. After an hour, a very strong lead group consisting of AA team mates (here riding for the International Team) Emma Pooley and Sharon Laws, Ashleigh Moolman (Lotto-Belisol), the USA's Andrea Dvorak, GC leader Cecilie Gotaas Johnsen and ten others (including Aude Biannic of France, who was first through all three intermediate sprints) had gained a 1' lead and they worked together to extend it as the passed through more rolling countryside. They saw off a chase group at the 55km point and had 2' by the time they got to the second sprint at 76.1km

Ashleigh Moolman took the first Mountain
points of the race
In a remarkably short amount of time, the leaders had added another minute and a half. A flatter section encouraged some more chasers to go to work with Tina Andreassen (Norway) and Ana Sanchis Chafer (Bizkaia-Durango) getting closest. However, they were completely outclassed by the sheer talent in the break; despite their efforts, the gap simply grew and grew - by the time they reached the third sprint at 94.9km the leaders had 4'02" on the chasers and 5'15" on the pack. As soon as the sprint was over, Cote Saint Vincent de Barrès, climbing 148m in 5.4km, got under way - any sort of climb is Pooley territory, but the British star is especially effective on this sort: the average gradient was only around 3%, but it topped 7% at four points and became gradually steeper towards the top. However, she's saving herself for the big climbs later on in the race and settled for third place at the summit with Moolman taking the top points while Oxana Kozonchuk (Be Pink) was second.  A weaker break would have found themselves left behind ready for the peloton to sweep them up on the mountain (which is precisely what I predicted would happen today), but this was no ordinary break and with so many enormously strong climbers and all rounders, the fifteen remained together.

Climbers, being as light as they are, frequently dislike riding back down mountains because they're too lightly-built to prevent the bike skipping around, this being the probable cause of the crash in the lead group on the 162m descent over the 13.6km after the summit - fortunately, they were all up immediately and had apparently escaped injury. At the foot of the mountain they reached the pancake-flat final 3km and, being climbers rather than sprinters, rode calmly together while waiting to see what would happen next rather than jockeying for position at the front. They waited all the way to the straight final few hundred metres to the finish line in Beauchastel, one of France's prettiest and most historic villages - and then Johnsen launched, using a short sharp burst of the energy that brought her first place in yesterday's Prologue to literally throw herself up the road and get to the line a fraction of a second before the rest of the group.

Johnsen, riding for Norway in this race, usually rides for the Hitec Products-Mistral Home trade team. Yesterday, manager Karl Lima Tweeted congratulations to the rider for her first UCI vitory with the team, then asked rhetorically: "I'm a genius in signing riders?" You can leave the "?" off this time Karl - nobody's going to doubt either your genius nor that you've found a genuine star. Follow Karl for more updates.

Cecilie Gotaas Johnsen
Meanwhile, the race is not going well for Debabarrena-Guipuzkoa - having started with only four riders after Debora Galvez and Immaculada Rafael couldn't take part, the team is now down to just two following the departure of Mireia Osa and Maite Murguia during today's stage.

Stage 1 result
1. Cecilie Gotaas JOHNSEN (Norway) 3h22'06"
2. Audrey CORDON (Vienne Futuroscope) ST
3. Oxana KOZONCHUK (Be Pink) ST
4. Noemi CANTELE (Be Pink) ST
5. Ashleigh MOOLMAN (Lotto-Belisol) ST
6. Leah KIRCHMANN (Canada) ST
7. Aude BIANNIC (France) ST
8. Sharon LAWS (International Team) ST
9. Tayler WILES (USA) ST
10. Emma POOLEY (International Team) ST
Full stage result

General Classification after Stage 1
1. Cecilie Gotaas JOHNSEN (Norway) 3h25'015" 4 4
2. Kristin MCGRATH (USA) +01"
3. Ashleigh MOOLMAN (Lotto-Belisol) +05"
4. Aude BIANNIC (France) +06"
5. Audrey CORDON (Vienne Futuroscope) +07"
6. Tayler WILES (USA) ST
7. Rachel NEYLAN (International Team) +08"
8. Oxana KOZONCHUK (Be Pink) +09"
9. Emma POOLEY (International Team) ST
10. Noemi CANTELE (Be Pink) ST
Full GC

Category leaders: Points: Cecilie Gotaas Johnsen (NOR); Mountains: Ashleigh Moolman (LBL); Youth: Aude Biannic (FRA); Combined: Ashleigh Moolman (LBL). Tayler Wiles (USA) was awarded the day's Combativity prize.

Stage 2, 3.5km Time Trial, 05.09
Click to enlarge
Vals-des-Bains owes its existence to the 143 mineral water springs in the municipality, the waters being credited with an ability to cure or relieve diabetes and eating disorders by those who believe in such things - and it seems that there are many who do, going by the water's undoubted ability to attract wealth: what would otherwise be no more than dusty collection of hamlets boasts a casino, boutiques, numerous hotels and all manner of other things that the rich require when spending a week in rural France.

The riders set off along the D253 Route d'Oubreyts, then headed north-west before climbing 65m in the first kilometre - an average gradient of 6.5% with a section at around 10% beginning at 0.3km, which gave those riders who combine time trial speed with climbing skill a natural advantage. The summit (330m) came just as the route turned left off the D253 and headed south-west down an initially winding, then straight descending road for 0.34km to another left turning onto the Route d'Autuche. A section with a gradient of -7% at 1.4km got the riders up to blistering speeds before spitting them out into the fast and descending 1.3km section leading back into Vals-des-Bains, where they blasted along the straight Rue de Voltour for 0.4km. A very tight left turn led onto the narrow Rue Jean Jaures (which looked to be the most dangerous section of the stage - thankfully, there have been no reported crashes as of yet) which, in addition to its narrow width, had a large amount of street furniture including iron gates, bollards, speed bumps and cobbled sections along its 0.55km length leading to the finish line (if you're lucky enough to be able to visit the race, don't miss your chance to see the enormous Alphonse Mucha mural painted on the side of a building 0.35km from where the riders turn onto the road).

Ashleigh Moolman (LBL), who has been on stunning form throughout this season, made the climb look relatively easy and recorded the best time of the stage - reportedly good enough to put her into the General Classification lead. The rest of the riders, including Emma Pooley (INT) who was second this morning, are going to have a very difficult job wresting it away from the 26-year-old South African if she rides like she did today in the high mountains to come.

Stage 2 result
1. Ashleigh MOOLMAN (Lotto-Belisol) 05'18"
2. Emma POOLEY (International Team) +07"
3. Tayler WILES (USA) +10"
4. Kristin MCGRATH (USA) +11"
5. Cecilie Gotaas JOHNSEN (Norway) ST
6. Marijn DE VRIES (International Team) +12"
7. Rachel NEYLAN (International Team) +14"
8. Joëlle NUMAINVILLE (Canada) +19"
9. Leah KIRCHMANN (Canada) +20"
10. Sané CANT (Steeds Vooran Kontich VZW)   ST
Full result

General Classification after Stage 2
1. Ashleigh MOOLMAN (Lotto-Belisol) 3h30'38"
2. Cecilie Gotaas JOHNSEN (Norway) +06"
3. Kristin MCGRATH (USA) +07"
4. Emma POOLEY (International Team) +11"
5. Tayler WILES (USA) +12"
6. Rachel NEYLAN (International Team) +17"
7. Aude BIANNIC (France) +21"
8. Noemi CANTELE (Be Pink) +24"
9. Leah KIRCHMANN (Canada) +26"
10. Audrey CORDON (Vienne Futuroscope) +28"
Full GC

DNS: Ingrid Lorvik (NOR)

Category leaders: Points: Cecilie Gotaas Johnsen (NOR); Mountains: Ashleigh Moolman (LBL); Sprints: Audrey Cordon (VFU); Youth: Aude Biannic (FRA); Combined: Ashleigh Moolman (LBL)

Stage 3, 91.7km, 05.09
Click to enlarge
Intermediate sprints: 6.4km, 60.3km, 78.5km; GPM: 20km Cat 1), 39.1km (Cat 2), 65.4km (Cat 2); Primes: 10km, 41.5km.
The most mountainous stage thus far, Stage 3 began in Vals-des-Bains at this morning's finish line, then crossed the river before turning right onto the Boulevard de Vernon. After crossing the river again and turning left onto the Rue Auguste Clement, it crossed the river for a third time before heading into Labégude and turned right onto the N102. After 5.7km the riders reached a roundabout and turned left onto the D19, then arrived at the first intermediate sprint 6.4km into the race.

With the sprint over, the riders approached the 10km bonus prime as they began the ascent of the 775m Col de la Croix Millet; from the beginning of the sprint to the summit, the road climbed 504m in 13.6km - an average gradient of 3.7% but with numerous sections topping 10% and at least one reaching 15%; any group that broke away early to grab sprint and bonus points would have had a very hard job holding off the specialist climbers before reaching the summit at 20km. So they conserved energy, and a break consisting of Emma Pooley (INT), Ashleigh Moolman (LBL) and seven other good climbers got away instead, building up a lead of 1'10" and making the race look as though it was going to end up closely resembling Stage 1. Until, that is, Be Pink decided otherwise: Noemi Cantele is a rider who knows how to take charge and how to make use of the terrain, driving the pace so high on the 17km descent on the other side of the mountain that a whole 50" was chopped out of the gap in a little more than ten minutes - and the break was swallowed up a few more minutes later.

There was a nasty little 15% average gradient climb over 0.2km starting at 30.7km, then at 37km the riders begans the 71m climb to the summit of 235m Col de la Grange, average gradient 3.3% with a 10% section at 38km,followed by the second prime with bonus points on offer for the first riders to reach 41.5km. The road stayed fairly flat for 8km, passing through two more dangerous sections - a narrow passage at 51.4km and a tight right turn at 56km; then they climbed to the second intermediate sprint starting at 60.3km and began the 165m ascent of 454m Col de Mirabel; the average gradient is only 3.3% but there are several sections hovering between 7 and 10% on the way up. Before long, another group of climbers - this time 24 riders strong - had got away and was busily building up a five-minute gap. Carlee Taylor (Vienne Futuroscope launched a solo attack but could get no further than around ten seconds out in front, making good use of the descent with its various -7% over the course of 13.1km to the final sprint at 78.5km. Meanwhile, Pooley was biding her time. When she knew that the mountains had tired the rest of the field, she taught her rivals how a solo attack ought to be carried out; sailing up the small climbs of 19m in the kilometre after the sprint and of 33m in the 2.2km from 79.8km, increasing her advantage in only a quarter of an hour to 1'20" with 10km to go. She needed it - the final 9.7km descended all the way to the finish line at Le Teil on the River Rhône, the perfect place for bigger, more powerful riders to catch her up.

Emma Pooley, seen her in the Time Trial
at the 2012 Olympics
The last 3km had two technical sections in the form of a sharp left turn onto the Boulevard Jean Jaures at 90.8km , then a very tight right leading into a sharp left bend onto the Rue de l'Eglise at 91.4km before the straight and flat 300m to the finish line - Pooley, though, wasn't going to let anyone beat her in a bunch sprint this time. With 7km to go, she'd added another 25" to her advantage; then she proved that not all small, slight climbers are afraid of descending by simply getting faster and faster until nobody was able to challenge her, getting to the line with enough time to take the General Classification lead from Moolman.

The stage was hit by drama when one of the official motorbikes collided with riders - there are no further details as to whether any riders were hurt; Hitec-Mistral (Cecilie Gotaas Johnsen's trade team) manager Karl Lima believes there were no injuries but says bikes were damaged and several riders are angry, suggesting that the moto rider was at fault.

Right now, it looks extremely like the contenders for overall victory have already been narrowed down to 15 riders with the rest of the pack trailing more than nine minutes behind them - it would take a superhuman effort for any of them to catch up. However, with so many kilometres still to come after the big climb, the other categories remain up for grabs - and a Pooley v. Moolman battle over the next three days would be a very fine thing to see indeed.

Stage 3 result
1. Emma POOLEY (International Team) 2h32'26"
2. Joëlle NUMAINVILLE (Canada) +01'40"
3. Oxana KOZONCHUK (Be Pink) ST
4. Alena AMIALIUSIK (Be Pink) ST
5. Mélodie LESUEUR (France) ST
6. Leah KIRCHMANN (Canada) ST
7. Ivanna BOROVICHENKO (Ukraine) ST
8. Sharon LAWS (International Team) ST
9. Carlee TAYLOR (Vienne Futuroscope) ST
10. Kristin MCGRATH (USA) ST
Full result

General Classification after Stage 3
1. Emma POOLEY (International Team) 6h03'15"
2. Ashleigh MOOLMAN (Lotto-Belisol) +01'29"
3. Kristin MCGRATH (USA) +01'36"
4. Tayler WILES (USA) +01'41"
5. Rachel NEYLAN (International Team) +01'46"
6. Leah KIRCHMANN (Canada) +01'55"
7. Noemi CANTELE (Be Pink) +01'59"
8. Oxana KOZONCHUK (Be Pink) +02'00"
9. Karol-Ann CANUEL (Vienne Futuroscope) +02'06"
10. Petra DIJKMAN +02'12"
Full GC

DNF: Caroline Baur (SUI), Sarah Scharbach (VIC)

Category leaders: Points: Cecilie Gotaas Johnsen (NOR); Mountains: Tayler Wiles (USA); Sprints: Audrey Cordon (VFU); Youth: Leah Kirchmann (CAN); Combined: Emma Pooley (INT)

Stage 4, 128.8km, 06.09
Click to enlarge
Intermediate sprints: 60km, 90.5km, 116.6km;  GPM: 8.4km, 28.3km, 48.5m (all Cat 1); Prime: 10km.
All the categorised climbs fell into the first half of Stage 4 and all the sprints into the second - but it would have been wrong to assume that the sprinters were going to have it all their own way in the second half because there are a couple of very tough non-categorised climbs at 85 and 95km - and with this being the Queen Stage, those mountains in the first half were going to extract a very harsh toll.

The stage began at Saint Sauveur de Montagut in the Rhône-Alpes, an attractive small town with an ancient bridge, a water mill and some very beautiful stretches of river, then headed south to begin climbing the Col des Crucifix - an ascent of 487m in 8.1km with an average gradient of 6%, numerous sections at 10% and a few reaching 15%. The bunch had remained together up until this point, but this was the perfect opportunity for the climbers to break away early on and build up a lead that could carry them all the way through the second half.

The second climb, 518m in 12.9km to the 1,021m summit of the Col de la Faye, where Tayler Wiles (USA), who had been first the top of the Crucifix, experienced mechanical difficulties that cost her the Mountains jersey. Ana Sanchis Chafer of Bizkaia-Durango took the top points and will wear polka dots tomorrow. A number of 15% sections near the top made the going hard for the weaker members and the lead group began to splinter as a result; an ideal time in Emma Pooley's opinion to launch a solo attack - but did she mean to ride the rest of the stage solo, repeating yesterday's stage win and quite possibly gaining an unbeatable advantage for the remainder of the race, or was she putting the pressure on her rivals in an attempt to tire them out in preparation for going solo at a later, safer time? Before too long, she was caught and the lead group seemed content to ride out the rest of the stage together and without wasting effort.

The remainder of the first half featured the 11.3km and 514km ascent to the summit of Col de Mézilhac, the race's highest point at 1,095m and with an average gradient of 4.5% but numerous points along the way at 15% and a few greater than that, though the last part of the climb was much less steep that the first.

Joëlle Numainville
The first sprint began at 60km, then the road descended for 11.9km until it reached a non-categorised climb of 139m beginning at 81.9km - it didn't look much on paper with its average 4%, but sections topping 7% on the way up can't have been at all welcome to riders still recovering from the big climbs earlier on in the stage. After climbing it, they arrived at the second sprint at 90.5km, then Ashleigh Moolman crashed on the 26.1km descent leading to the third and final sprint at 116.6km. Though traveling at some speed she managed to land well and escaped injury, but her Lotto-Belisol team expending valuable energy waiting for her and then helping her back into the race; fortunately, they managed to preserve her second place in the General Classification

There was a very slight climb of 11m around 118km into the race, then the remainder of the stage was flat for 7.5km all the way to the finish line. The last 3km into Cruas were almost imperceptibly downhill; the 0.62km leading to the finish line by the town hall was also wide and straight, making this last section after the sharp left turn off the D86 and tight left bend right after it prime sprinter territory - and very much to the liking of Canada's Joëlle Numainville, who used the same tactics that won her third place at the Ronde van Vlaanderen earlier this year with a burst of power that put her across the line in first place just ahead of the 31 riders who recorded the same time. Audrey Cordon took the top points at all three sprints, Tayler Wiles

While the General Clasification top ten doesn't look vastly different to how it did this time yesterday, big changes have in fact happened - the number of riders with a realistic chance of winning has now been reduced to just nine, six fewer than yesterday.

Stage 4 result
1. Joëlle NUMAINVILLE (Canada) 3h55'59"
2. Alena AMIALIUSIK (Be Pink) ST
3. Emily COLLINS (Boretti-Ulyses) ST
4. Sharon LAWS (International Team) ST
5. Kaat HANNES (Lotto-Belisol) ST
6. Carol-An CANUEL (Vienne Futuroscope) ST
7. Ivanna BOROVYCHENKO (Ukraine) ST
8. Carla RYAN (Escuental-For Viored) ST
9. Sofie DE VUYST (Lotto-Belisol) ST
10. Leah KIRCHMANN (Canada) ST
Full result

General Classification after Stage 4
1. Emma POOLEY (International Team) 6h03'15"
2. Ashleigh MOOLMAN (Lotto-Belisol) +01'29"
3. Kristin MCGRATH (USA) +01'36"
4. Tayler WILES (USA) +01'41"
5. Rachel NEYLAN (International Team) +01'46"
6. Leah KIRCHMANN (Canada) +01'55"
7. Noemi CANTELE (Be Pink) +01'59"
8. Carol-An CANUEL (Vienne Futuroscope) +02'06"
9. Sharon LAWS (International Team) +02'14"
10. Audrey CORDON (Vienne Futuroscope) +08.01"
Full result

DNF: Erin Donohue (USA), Anna Nahirna (UKR), Ludivine Loze (DGU), Jasmin Rebmann (VIC), Latoya Brulee (MI2); DNS: Mariska Breyne (SVK)

Category leaders
: Points: Joëlle Numainville (CAN); Mountains: Ana Sanchis Chafer (BDU); Sprints: Audrey Cordon (VFU); Youth: Leah Kirchmann (CAN); Combined: Emma Pooley (INT)

Stage 5, 105.3km, 07.09
Click to enlarge
Intermediate sprints: 24.5km, 68.8km, 88km; GPM: 27.8km (Cat 2), 53.5km (Cat 1), 84.7km (Cat 1); Prime: 10km, 73.8km.
Beginning in Le Pouzin, which has a Roman bridge and would have had a great deal more ancient architecture had it not have been for heavy bombing (by the USA and the Nazis) towards the end of the Second World War, the stage got under way with a 13.4km loop including an uncategorised 152m climb with one 10% section; a feature put to use by the USA team - Andrea Dvorak attacked after only 7km to start putting the pressure on their rivals. Once through the 10km prime and back in le Pouzin, the riders began the winding journey to the south.

The 11.1km between the second visit to Le Pouzin and the first sprint (24.5km) climbed gently overall, but wasn't enough to create difficulties for the sprinters nor opportunities for the climbers; but a lead group of ten got away shortly afterwards one the first proper climb started. A 228m ascent of the Cote de Saint Bauzile, with its average gradient of 7.6% and some steeper bits thrown in for good measure, was just what Emma Pooley wanted - the British star launch another of her trademark mountain attacks when she rode off solo. This time, it didn't work: Pooley was unable to hold off Carla Ryan (Escuental-For Viored) when she went for the summit and took the points.

23-year-old Doris Scweizer
was fastest through the first
two intermediate sprints
The next 9.3km descended with a right turn towards Saint Martin marking the start of the second categorised climb Col de Fontenelle, upon which riders climbed 631m in 16.4km. This was the longest climb in the race, though not the steepest with an average gradient of 3.8% (there are, however, several steeper sections, some nearing 10% and, on two short occasions 15%), which permitted the leaders to add a bit more time to their advantage. The summit was at 53.5km; Ryan was again the first rider to reach it and picked up more points, then it was downhill for the next 15.3km to the 68.8km point, through the second intermediate sprint and for the following 2.4km to the bridge at 71.4km where the climb to the prime at 73.8km began. The leaders, down to seven riders now, lengthened the gap to five minutes. Once they'd gone through the prime, they began the 508m ascent to the 804m summit of Col du Benas, a 10.9km route with an average gradient of 4.6% and several steeper sections, including one difficult part at around 82km that reached 15%. The riders arrived at the summit 84.7km into the race with Ryan first one up again, then she took the points at the third sprint (88km) too after they'd virtually flown through the first 3.3km after the summit.

Despite those big climbs, this was not a stage upon which it was possible to say with any degree of certainty whether a sprinter or a climber would win: the last 13.5km was a collection of various types of terrain that could have swung the race either way. There was a very small climb at 91.8km, but with only 59m in 5.3km and an average gradient 1.1% it was never going to put the ball in the out-and-out grimpeur's court, then  9.3km descent right after it gave the heavier and more powerful riders a grand chance to make up time lost on the mountains. However, coming right after it was a stiff 103m ascent in the last 4.2km; it started out at 10% before becoming less steep towards the top, but still topped 7% at several points on the way there. Escuental-For Viored haven't really made themselves prominent thus far - Ryan (who won Stage 6 two years ago whilst riding with the Cervélo Test Team) is the only team member to have managed a top ten stage finish. Today, as the climbers lost out on the downhill and the sprinters did the same on the last climb, she saw her chance. Having using everything she learned in her previous career as a marathon runner, she made devastatingly effective use of what energy she had left and kept going at a high, steady rate while the rest of the leaders fought for an advantage wherever they thought they might find one - and it worked splendidly. She was able to get away, extending her lead all the way as the rest of the field found themselves lacking what they've have needed to catch her and, eventually, running out of time. She crossed the finish line with 1'32" advantage, taking what many will call the most impressive stage victory in the Tour this year.

Carla Ryan, riding for
Escuental-For Viored
Yesterday, the number of riders in contention was reduced to nine - today, it's down to only eight after Leah Kirchmann (Canada) lost 6'49" (her Youth category victory looks to be a given, however - she leads the classification by more than six minutes) . There are still enough riders within sight of Emma Pooley (International Team) to make her eventual victory not yet guaranteed, but with the two big Cat. 1 climbs tomorrow it's hard to picture anyone else taking the top step of the podium.

Stage 5 result
1. Carla RYAN (Escuental-For Viored) 3h10'34"
2. Joëlle NUMAINVILLE (Canada) +01'32"
3. Sofie de VUYST (Lotto-Belisol) +01'40"
4. Joanna van de WINKEL (Lotto-Belisol) +02'21"
5. Doris SCHWEIZER (Switzerland) +02'22"
6. Olena PAVLUKHINA (Ukraine) +02'48"
7. Carol-An CANUEL (Vienne Futuroscope) +04'39"
8. Emma POOLEY (International Team) ST
9. Ashleigh MOOLMAN (Lotto-Belisol) ST
10. Kristin MCGRATH (USA) ST
Full result

General Classification after Stage 5
1. Emma POOLEY Emma 13:14:27
2. Ashleigh MOOLMAN (Lotto-Belisol) +01'29"
3. Kristin MCGRATH (USA) +01'36"
4. Tayler WILES (USA) +01'41"
5. Rachel NEYLAN (International Team) +01'46"
6. Carol-An CANUEL (Vienne Futuroscope) +02'06"
7. Sharon LAWS (International Team) +02'20"
8. Noemi CANTELE (Be Pink) +02'22"
9. Leah KIRCHMANN (Canada) +08'44"
10. Audrey CORDON (Vienne Futuroscope) +08'58"
Full result

DNF: Aude Biannic (FRA), Gloria Rodriguez Sanchez (BDU), Giulia Donato (BPK), Lisanne Soemanta (EFV).

Category leaders: Points: Carla Ryan (EFV); Mountains: Carla Ryan (EFV); Sprints: ; Youth: Leah Kirchmann (CAN); Combined: Emma Pooley (INT). Olena Pavlukhina took the Combativity award for the stage.

Stage 6, 98km, 08.09
Intermediate sprints: 6km, 38.6km, 59.1km; GPM: 22.8km, 62.4km (all Cat 1); Prime: 10km.
Click to enlarge
Stage 6 began and ended in Saint Martin d'Ardèche (once home to Max Ernst), though the start and finish lines were located separately. The first 2km were flat, then the route climbed 157m in 5.1km, touching 7% on the way, to the start of the first intermediate sprint at 6km followed by a 10km descent through the prime and onward to the start of the first categorised climb, Col du Laoul, starting at 16km. With 329m to the summit at 22.8km, the average gradient is 4.8% but there were several sections at around 7% on the way up. As soon as the terrain turned upwards, the usual suspects turned up the power: Ana Sanchis Chafer (Biskaia-Durango), Carol-An Canuel and Carlee Taylor (both Vienne Futuroscope), Tayler Wiles (USA), Carla Ryan (Escuental-For Viored), Ashleigh Moolman (Lotto-Belisol), Joëlle Numainville and Leah Kirchmann (both Canada), Rachel Neylen, Sharon Laws and - of course - Emma Pooley (all International Team) were off and had a minute and a half before the first 20km were even over.

After descending 103m in 6km, the race passed through rolling terrain for 9.8km to the second sprint at 38.6km; then continued to descend for most of the next 20km leading to the last intermediate sprint at 59.1km. From 59.6km it began to rise again, passing through a tunnel at 61.5km before reaching the 320m summit of Col du Serre de Tourre, the last categorised climb in the race: it ascended 234m in 2.8km, giving an average gradient of 8.4%, but it also topped 15% in two places - which enabled the lead group to lengthen the gap between themselves and the peloton to 2'50". One of those 15% sections, being a good 0.2km in length, was probably the hardest part of the entire parcours for some riders; it was also where Pooley made the move that won her the General Classification - as the others suffered, she soared, rapidly shaking off both Canuel and Moolman who had been the only riders capable of trying to chase. She had an advantage of 30" as she crested the summit alone.

Emma Pooley, the greatest British
cyclist of her generation
The next 11.2km were rolling, then an uncategorised climb of 87m in 4.5km (average 2%) led to a 359m summit at 78.1km; the 29-year-old British star simply got faster and faster and in no time at all had more than doubled the gap to 1'15". With the exception of a 20m climb over 4.6km starting at 84.5km (average less than 0.5%), the remaining 19.9km was downhill all the way to the finish line. Pooley, who as we saw early in the race is the exception to the rule that small, lightly-built climbers cannot cope with descents, went into it with an advantage of 3', having more than doubled her gap again in only 8km.

With 10km to go, she was 4'15" out in front. The final 3km were reasonably flat and straight with the exception of the last kilometre where a very tight right-hand hairpin led from the D290 onto the D200, but Pooley could have got off and walked her bike round it, through the following straight and then round the final right-hand bend into the final 50m without it making any real difference to the eventual outcome. She is the second rider in the history of the race to have won two consecutive editions, the first having been Edita Pučinskaitė in 2006/6.

Stage Result
1. Emma POOLEY (International Team) 2h46'23"
2. Tayler WILES (USA) +03'42"
3. Rachel NEYLAN (International Team) ST
4. Ashleigh MOOLMAN (Lotto-Belisol) ST
5. Joëlle NUMAINVILLE (Canada) ST
6. Carol-An CANUEL (Vienne Futuroscope) ST
7. Carlee TAYLOR (Vienne Futuroscope) ST
8. Sharon LAWS (International Team) ST
9. Leah KIRCHMANN (Canada) ST
10. Carla RYAN (Escuental-For Viored) ST
Full stage result

Beauchastel, Stage 1
Full Final General Classification
1. Emma POOLEY (International Team) 16h00'50"
2. Ashleigh MOOLMAN (Lotto Belisol) +5:11
3. Tayler WILES (USA) +5:23
4. Rachel NEYLAN (International Team) +5:28 
5. Carol-An CANUEL (Vienne Futuroscope) +5:48 
6. Sharon LAWS (International Team) +6:02 
7. Kristin MCGRATH (USA) +9:18 
8. Noemi CANTELE (Be Pink) +10:06 
9. Leah KIRCHMANN (Canada) +12:26
10. Carla RYAN (Escuental-For Viored) +14:04
11. Joelle NUMAINVILLE (Canada) +14:27
12. Anna SANCHIS CHAFER (Bizkaia Durango) +15:13
13. Audrey CORDON (Vienne Futuroscope) +16:39
14. Carlee TAYLOR (Vienne Futuroscope) +18:08
15. Oxana KOZONCHUK (Be Pink) +22:00
16. Petra DIJKMAN (International Team) +22:31
17. Amélie RIVAT (Vienne Futuroscope) +22:34
18. Ane SANTESTEBAN GONZALEZ (Bizkaia Durango) +22:35
19. Sofie DE VUYST (Lotto Belisol) +24:51
20. Emily COLLINS (Boretti-Ulyses) +28:26
Saint Sauveur de Montagut, Stage 4
21. Eivgenia VYSOTSKA (Ukraine) +28:43
22. Joanne HOGAN (Bizkaia Durango)) +28:52
23. Dalia MUCCIOLI (Be Pink) +29:00
24. Joanna VAN DE WINKEL (Lotto Belisol) +31:39
25. Olena PAVLUKHINA (Ukraine)+31:44
26. Cecilie Gotaas JOHNSEN (Norway) +34:01
27. Doris SCHWEIZER (Switzerland) +34:10
28. Marijn DE VRIES (International Team) +34:23
29. Irene SAN SEBASTIAN LASA (Debabarrena-Guipuzkoa) +34:45
30. Hanna NILSSON (International Team) +34:51
31. Mélodie LESUEUR (France) +40:17
32. Ivanna BOROVICHENKO (Ukraine) +40:38
33. Siobhan HORGAN (GSD-Gestion) +41:52
34. Kaat HANNES (Lotto Belisol) +43:16
35. Olena SHARGA (Ukraine) +44:11
36. Andrea GRAUS (Vienne Futuroscope) +44:19
37. Mélanie BRAVARD (France) +46:35
38. Catherine HARE WILLIANSON (Escuental-For Viored) +46:46
39. Veronique LABONTE (Canada) +47:00
40. Anisha VEKEMANS (WC Steeds Vooraan Konti) +50:13
41. Oriane CHAUMET (GSD-Gestion) +50:54
42. Pavlina SULCOVA (Czech/Mixed) +50:58
43. Ann-Sofie DUYCK (Lotto Belisol) +52:02
44. Marion ROUSSE (Vienne Futuroscope) +53:40
45. Riccarda MAZZOTTA (Switzerland) +53:50
46. Sanne CANT (WC Steeds Vooraan Konti) +54:29
47. Claire THOMAS (ASPTT Dijon-Bourgogne) +54:34
Le Pouzin, Stage 5
48. Miriam BJØRNSRUD (Norway) +56:24
49. Emma CRUM (ASPTT Dijon-Bourgogne) +56:34
50. Nicole HANSELMANN (Switzerland) +56:42
51. Katarína HRANAIOVÁ (Czech/Mixed) +58:36
52. Emily KACHOREK (USA) +59:50
53. Linda RINGLEVER (Escuental-For Viored) +1:02:23
54. Alexis RYAN (USA) +1:02:40
55. Tina ANDREASSEN (Norway) +1:03:30
56. Lucie PADER (GSD-Gestion) +1:03:37
57. Tamina Kate OLIVER (Boretti-Ulyses) +1:03:40
58. Emilie AUBRY (GSD-Gestion) +1:06:32
59. Lex ALBRECHT (Canada) +1:08:00
60. Lina-Kristin SCHINK (GSD-Gestion) +1:08:49
61. Sara OLSSON (Boretti-Ulyses) +1:11:14
62. Celine VAN SEVEREN (WC Steeds Vooraan Konti) +1:11:53
63. Cristina ALCALDE HUERTANOS (Bizkaia-Durango) +1:15:36
64. Annelies DOM (WC Steeds Vooraan Konti) +1:16:44
65. Veronika BLÁHOVÁ (Czech/Mixed) +1:16:44
66. Alexia MUFFAT (ASPTT Dijon-Bourgogne) +1:16:50
67. Kathrin HAMMES (Vita Classic) +1:17:31
68. Dorleta ESKAMENDI GIL (Bizkaia-Durango) +1:21:38
69. Béatrice THOMAS (ASPTT Dijon-Bourgogne) +1:22:32
Saint-Martin d'Ardèche, Stage 6
70. Penny ROWSON (Boretti-Ulyses) +1:22:53
71. Fanny MARTINET (Switzerland) +1:25:09
72. Emilie MOBERG (Norway) +1:31:16
73. Stefanie PAUL (Mixed 2) +1:31:26
74. Daniela GASS (Mixed 2) +1:32:09
75. Roxane FOURNIER (France) +1:37:38
76. Stefanie MEIZER (Vita Classic) +1:38:04
77. Margriet  KLOPPENBURG (Mixed 2) +1:38:25
78. Ciara HORNE (Escuental-For Viored) +1:41:33
79. Elena EGGLE (Vita Classic) +1:41:40
80. Denisa BARTOŠOVÁ (Czech/Mixed) +1:41:41
81. Johanna NILSSON (Boretti-Ulyses) +1:44:14
82. Elaine OSSOLA (Mixed 2) +1:59:35
83. Rimma LUCHSHENKO (Be Pink) +2:04:57
84. Irena BERKOVÁ (Czech/Mixed) +2:10:40
85. Marjetka CONRADI (Boretti-Ulyses) +2:21:01
86. Dorothee LORCH (Vita Classic) +2:21:54