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.