Tuesday 26 March 2013

Dwars door de Westhoek 2013

21.04.2013 Official Site
Belgium, One-day Road Race, 125.08km
UCI 1.1

Though not one of the better-known races outside Belgium, the Dwars door de Westhoek is a race full of interest: it takes place in a fascinating region full of history and, with numerous sharp corners, technical sections, tough climbs and - the Dwars' speciality - fast and dangerous descents along its compact 125.08km parcours, it's an easy-to-watch introduction to the fast and thrilling character of Flemish racing.

The first and second editions, in 2010 and 2011, were won by the Belgians Liesbeth de Vocht and Grace Verbeke, then the Dutch rider Kim de Baat took the honours in 2012. With 18 UCI teams, twelve clubs teams and national teams taking part, the 2013 edition promised to be another fine battle between the Belgians, the Dutch and the rest and generated a noticeably greater buzz on Twitter, suggesting that this is a race that's going to grow and get better in the coming years.

The Race
(Parcours guide below)
Being as far as they are from the finish line, the climbs select a group from which the eventual winner will be drawn in the Dwars door de Westhoek rather than allow any one rider to build up an insurmountable lead (had it have been otherwise, with the climbs making up more of the parcours or simply nearer to the finish, there's a good chance that Senger's Maaike Polspoel would have taken the top step on the podium - the 24-year-old Belgian looked by far the strongest whenever the road pointed skywards). This year, they did it in cruel fashion by taking fifty riders out of contentention altogether, leaving only two-thirds of the starters to deal with the final rolling 80km.

With unusually good weather, the attacks started the minute the hills had been left behind but these appeared to be attempts by the teams to test the water and put a little more pressure onto rival outfits' sprinters rather than genuine attempts to get riders out in front and none of them came to anything. By the time the last of the four finishing laps began, a bunch sprint still looked the most likely outcome - then Megan Guarnier (Rabobank) exploded out of the pack with what looked like enough strength to take victory. However, with the flat terrain and straight, fast sections left on the final approach, the other teams knew that they could work together to bring her down and did so, catching her with 4km to go.

2013 winner Jolien d'Hoore
With all the remaining riders still together and a fast, cobbled straight to the finish, the stage had been set for a chaotic blast to the line and several riders elected to sit back and ride it out rather than risk a last attack, among them Vera Koedooder (Sengers) who, though she's the sort of rider capable of creating a path through the pack and accelerating to a race-winning pace that allows her wheels to skip over the cobbles, was undoubtedly feeling the effects of her victorious efforts at the Omloop van Borsele, and Lauren Kitchen who, like other members of her Wiggle-Honda team, has been suffering an allergic reaction brought on by the dusty conditions encountered at the Belgian Classics this season. Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (Rabobank), meanwhile, fancied her chances and laid down the power, looking for a moment as though she might win solo; however, Jolien d'Hoore (Lotto-Belisol) and Martine Bras (Boels-Dolmans) were instantly on her case and turned out to have sufficient strength to overpower her, leaving her to take third place while they took first and second.

Top Ten
1 Jolien D'HOORE (Lotto-Belisol)
2 Martine BRAS (Boels-Dolmans)
3 Pauline FERRAND-PREVOT (Rabobank-Liv/Giant)
4 Ine BEYEN (Topsport Vlaanderen-Bioracer)
5 Katarzyne PAWLOWSKA (GSD Gestion-Kallisto)
6 Lucy GARNER (Argos-Shimano)
7 Christelle FERRIER-BRUNEAU (Faren-Let's Go Finland)
8 Elena KUCHINSKAYA (RusVelo)
9 Annette EDMONDSON (Orica-AIS)
10 Loren ROWNEY (Specialized-Lululemon)
Full result

Video credit: CyclingFlash

Video credit: Mr Kittekat

Click to enlarge
Looking at Boezinge today, it's difficult to believe that less than a century ago it was almost completely destroyed: lying just to the north of Ieper (better-known to English-speakers as Ypres) it was heavily shelled by both sides during the First World War - there are no fewer than nine British military cemeteries within the town's environs with 5,003 graves, and there are more in the town churchyard. The inhabitants stayed during the First Battle of Ypres but fled during the Second Battle; when the conflict ended, they returned to find virtually nothing was left and had to build wooden huts to live in while they rebuilt the town.

The race begins at the marketplace by the church, which was turned to rubble by shelling, with the riders first heading NNE along the Katspel for 80m until they reach the first left turn - because this is Flanders and the Flemish like their races punishing, this first section is cobbled. Around the corner, on Boezingestraat, the central part of the road is tarmac but there are more cobbles on the right. The road continues SE for 1.34km to a crossroads with Reningsestraat, marking the end of the neutralised section and the beginning of racing just past a row of cottages on the left; a wide right-hand bend just ahead leads into Tuinwijk and Elverdinge, home to an impressive chateau (or kasteel, as they're known in Flemish), where the riders take a wide left-hand bend past a Dexia bank and find themselves on Steenstraat. 75m ahead, at a crossroads, the road becomes D'Ennetieresplein; 160m later a left turn leads onto Sint-Livinusstraat, then 85m after that another right turn carries the race onto Vlamertingsestraat, with a small climb up to and through the wooded section, then a small descent. Just past the woods, on the right, is Vermuelen's Molen - at 29m, the tallest windmill in West Flanders, offering such good views of the surrounding landscape that it was put into use as an observation tower by the Nazis during the Second World War. The mill has been without its sails since 1909, when it was converted to run on electrical power.
Main route profile - click to enlarge
Vlamertingsestraat isn't wide, but the good surface and long straights interspersed by occasional sweeping bends are likely to generate the highest speeds seen so far in the race, making it the ideal place for the peloton to catch and swallow up any early breakaway groups; however, it's also very exposed and wind could create problems. Once in Vlamertinge the road becomes Guido Gezellestraat, then Hugo Verriesstraat after a crossroads as it begins an uncomplicated journey to Reningelst. Bellestraat starts after a level crossing and continues south out of the town with the riders going straight ahead at a roundabout and onto a fast, straight section of 4km to Ouderdom, 10.19km from the start, then another 1.5km to Reningelst - where an annual cycling festival is held. As the riders arrive at the town, a tight right corner leads onto Zevekotestraat; the road surface is covered in tarmac but, in places, it's worn away to reveal the old cobbles beneath - some of which look more than capable of causing punctures. Opposite the church, 340m ahead, is a far less technical left onto Heuvellandsweg, a wide and fast road that will carry the race for 2km to Poperingestraat, becoming Westouterstraat towards the end.

Poperingstraat is also wide and fast, presenting no challenges on the way into Westouter (where the international Edvald Boasson Hagen fanclub is based, incidentally); in the centre of town, just past the AXA bank on the right and before the church on the left, the surface changes from tarmac to cobbles. Reasonably smooth at first, they become rougher after the road forks and the riders keep left for Schomminkelstraat (with the suddenly much narrower route having the potential to cause problems if the entire peloton tries to get down it at once), but the tarmac starts again only a few metres ahead past the patisserie. Schomminkelstraat then passes out of town and into the countryside; it's flat for the first 0.4km, then the race begins climbing Schomminkelberg for the first time, gaining more than 65m over the last 1.1km - an average gradient of 4.4% that reaches 14% at the steepest section. The first riders to the top win the first GPM points of the race - under the name Rodeberg West, the climb is more familiar as one of those in the Gent-Wevelgem race, as is the Rodeberg itself, which continues to climb to 138m above sea level just around the left turn onto Rodebergstraat. Though the road beyond the junction is wide and smooth, it's a challenging climb in its own right and reaches 11% before the woods at the top.

Vermeulen's Molen, the tallest windmill in
West Flanders
Whatever fears Schomminkelberg holds for the sprinters, the Rodeberg descent has greater terrors for the climbers who, being small and lacking the weight needed to control a bike on a fast descent, tend to dislike sharp declines: the 0.9km to the sharp right turn leading onto Dikkebusstraat is even steeper than the ascent, with one part rated -17.6%. If a climber got away on the way up, she could see her advantage turn rapidly into a big disadvantage as heavier riders plunge away. Any rider could see their chance at finishing the race vanish if she fails to brake in time for the corner - not only is it tight, there is plenty of street furniture to hit as the route turns toward Loker, where another cobbled section begins by the church; the cobbles continue after the left turn onto Kemmelbergweg, then end at the right turn onto Godtschalkstraat, a narrow but smooth road running for 1.35km to another right onto Koenraadstraat, 20.6km from the start. Narrow and rough, Koenraadstraat is little more than a farm track; riders stay on it for a kilometre until they reach the smoother two-lane Lettingstraat, then turn left to begin climbing the Monteberg - another hill familiar to fans from Gent-Wevelgem; the average gradient is 7%, the maximum is 13%, just like Schomminkelberg, there are some very steep sections on the descent.

At Kemmel, a left turn leads onto Reningelstraat, a fast 5.8km road ending at a left turn onto Vlamtingerseweg at Reninghelst; 0.2km later the riders arrive back at the right turn onto Zevekotestraat, following the same route as earler via Heuvellandseweg and back to Schomminkelberg and Monteberg. After climbing Monteberg for the second time 41.2km from the start, they turn right on Lettingstraat, heading along Smijterstraat. Just over 820m in length, Smijterstraat's maximum gradient is -6.8%; steep but not excessively so. However, "straat" is somewhat misleading - from the entrance opposite the cafe at the top of Monteberg, it looks more like a narrow footpath than a road, and just a few metres away it drops so suddenly away that it becomes invisible. While the surface is good, the prospect of tackling it among a large pack of riders all travelling at speed is enough to strike fear into the hearts of even the bravest descender, and there are thick, thorny hedges along the first part - a crash caused by a puncture here could send the entire peloton into chaos. It ends with a tight right turn onto Kruisabelestraat, a much wider road where riders who found themselves pushed to the back on Smijterstraat have a chance to fight their way back to the front of the pack. A very tight - but, due to the width of the roads, not especially technical - left carries the race onto Dranouterstraat, 3.5km of smooth, straight tarmac leading to Nieuwkerk and a sharp left onto Seulestraat, which becomes Nieuwkerkstraat after a few metres and remains so for 3km to Wulvergem where an easy right turn finds Dorpstraat some 50km from the start.

Dorpstraat becomes Mesenstraat just outside Wuvlergem, with two small climbs en route for Mesen. The race turns left at a sharp corner on the outskirts of the town, made more dangerous due to the possibility of diesel spillages from trucks visiting the depot just over the road, then progresses along Kruisstraat for 1.85km before coming to an easy right onto Wulvergemstraat, a straight and fast road to Wijtschate. At the end of the road, left leads onto Sint-Medardusplein, a wide urban route with cobbles at the edges of a tarmac central section. Once the riders have left the town behind, the road becomes known as Vierstraat and, after crossing the N331 road, passes through an industrial area. 1.74km from the crossroads is a left turn onto Hallebaststraat; a right turn at another crossroads 0.75km ahead is a right turn leading over Dikkebussweg and into the tiny village of Hallebast where the road becomes Ouderdomseweg. At the end of an unchallenging 1.95km stretch the race turns right onto Vlamertingeseweg; this soon becomes Bellestraat and reverses the same route as earlier to lead into Vlamertinge and over the level crossing (marking 70km from the start), then continues past Vermuelen's Molen into Elverdinge and Tuinwijk before taking Boezingestraat to a point 450m past the official start where a sharp right leads onto the narrow Hynderickstraat - another potentially dangerous spot if too many riders try to take the corner at the same time. A left 1.3km ahead finds Kapellestraat, which continues for 0.9km into Boezinge and a left turn onto Diksmuidseweg and arrives at back at the cobbled start of the neutralised zone after 976m, 78.68km from the start.
Local circuit map - click to enlarge
At the start line, the riders begin the first of four laps of an 11.6km local circuit continue straight ahead for 540m to a left turn onto Ravestraat, following it through countryside for 1.95km to a T-junction with Steenstraat. At the junction they turn left, taking Steenstraat for 3.7km back to Elverdinge where another left leads back onto the Boezingestraat through Tuinwijk, then via the official start and the right turn onto Hynderickstraat to return to the start of the neutral zone in Boezinge. There are numerous good places from which to watch the race along the circuit.
Local circuit altimetry profile - click to enlarge

Sunday 24 March 2013

EPZ Omloop van Borsele 2013

20.04.2013 Official site
Netherlands, One-day Road Race, 120km
UCI 1.2

Large-scale map - click to enlarge
The Omloop van Borsele is the final event in one of those wonderful cycling festivals that take place in the Netherlands and Belgium - there is also a three-stage race for Junior women (time trial stage on Friday, stages 2 and 3 on Saturday and Sunday), a time trial for Elite women on Friday, time trials for Junior men and Promises on Saturday and a Junior men's race on Sunday.

Zeeland, in the far south of the Netherlands, consists largely of islands, many of them reclaimed from the sea; many points lie below sea level and the region is extremely flat. The parcours is also famous for the narrowness of the roads with at approximately half of the route being only wide enough for a single car which, combined with the winds that roar in from the North Sea, tends to keep the pack together and prevent the use of clever tactics - it's no surprise, then, that the Omloop has been dominated by sprinters with Kirsten Wild (racing with Argos-Shimano this year; 114) holding the record of four victories, won consecutively between 2008 and 2011.

The Race

With 2012 winner Ellen van Dijk away due to illness, Wild was a popular favourite this year - a string of sprint victories so far this season has proved that she has lost none of her skill. However, a crash shortly after the race got underway  in 's-Heerenhoek caused her to lose significant time; Orica-AIS rider Sungeun Gu also fell and had to leave the race (her team mates Annette Edmondsen and Gracie Elvin went down in the same spot later on; fortunately none received serious injury). The route, passing through typically flat Dutch countryside that leaves the riders at the mercy of the powerful winds that blow in off the North Sea at this time of year, is 24.311km from start to finish; riders needed to complete five laps to finish.

Kuipersdijk is wide, flat and smooth and encouraged a fast start as the riders headed south out of town, but there were plenty of technical sections to keep the riders paying attention: at Westeindsedijk, only 3km from the start, the road narrowed on a very tight turn and many of the riders found themselves suddenly at the back of the peloton as it poured itself into the limited space. A little further on on the Bandijk road, a nasty pavé-like rumblestrip running either side of the asphalt slowed down those riders who got forced onto it as they rounded the corner. A right followed immediately after, taking the race onto the Hooglandesdijk (with more rough verges) heading south-east again for 1.6km and a left onto Weldijk, soon passing through the tiny village Koekoek ("Cuckoo"), by which time a combination of parcours and the expected strong wind had split the pack into several smaller groups.

Kruiningenpolderweg is almost perfectly straight, another fast section where pressure could be put on rivals; it saw its fair share of tactical moves as the riders used it to test one another's strength. A few kilometres beyond Nisse, near a small lake called Schouwersweel on the left, the riders turned right and continued west on Nieuwekamerseweg, a narrower road that becomes Oudekamersedijk until reaching a fork where they kept right to follow Oude Zandijk north for 1.8km until arriving at a tight left onto Boomdijk, marking a point 20.121km from the start. Boomdijk is very narrow; with only 4km from here to the finish on the last lap, it left little room for chasers to get out of the peloton to bring back escapees - with her experienced eye, Vera Koedooder of the Sengers team knew it was the place to launch an attack and did so in the third lap with some 50km to go. With her went Loes Gunnewijk (Orica-AIS), Nina Kessler (Boels-Dolmans), Okzana Kozonchuk (RusVelo), Lucinda Brand (Rabobank) and Chloe Hosking, who seems to be determined to please team sponsors by getting her Hitec Products-UCK jersey into as many breaks and onto as many podiums as possible this year. The six stayed together as the race headed first west, then bent north for a short while and negotiented a pair of right-hand bends to get onto Oudelandseweg.

When Koedooder launched a second attack, only
Loes Gunnewijk was able to respond
0.6km further on, the riders arrived at a junction with the Heinkenszandseweg, the widest and most important road the race has seen for some time. Turning left led west and the road ran straight for 2.4km with plenty of width for the peloton to get into pursuit mode, stepping up the pace in the knowledge that they'd expend less energy than the six leaders. In the end, though, it was Koedooder that smashed the lead group apart: with 20km to go, she attacked so hard that only Gunnewijk was able to follow. The race was, against all expectations, going to end with a one-on-one sprint on the last 750m along the straight road to the finish line. Without Wild, who frequently seems utterly unbeatable in a finish such as this one, around to dominate proceedings this situation suited Koedooder perfectly - she powered up to full speed and simply kept going to her fourth win of the season so far, leaving Gunnewijk simply unable to find the little extra she'd have needed to get past. Lucinda Brand, who had led the chase group, took third place at +27" and Chloe Hosking was fourth at +53".

Kirsten Wild, the Argos-Shimano sprinter who crashed early on in the race, would eventually finish in 20th place 10'23" after Koedooder. Subsequent investigation revealed that she'd broken her shoulder - and anybody who has suffered a similar injury, as I have, will be thinking "Chapeau!" in wonderment that she could even get back on her bike, never mind finish the race. She'll now be forced to miss the upcoming Tour of Chongming Island, a race that would have suited her very well; get well soon Kirsten.

2013 victor Vera Koedooder
Top Ten
1 Vera KOEDOODER (Sengers) 3h05'56"
3 Lucinda BRAND (Rabobank) +27"
4 Chloe HOSKING (Hitec Products-UCK) +53"
5 Nina KESSLER (Boels-Dolmans) +1'05"
6 Oksana KOZONCHUK (RusVelo) +2'16"
7 Amanda SPRATT, Amanda (Orica-AIS) +2'32"
8 Annemiek VAN VLEUTEN (Rabobank) +2'48"
9 Adrie VISSER(Boels-Dolmans) ST
10 Ilona HOEKSMA (Parkhotel Valkenberg) ST
Full result here

Saturday 23 March 2013

La Flèche Wallonne 2013

17.04.2013 Official Site
Belgium, One-day World Cup Road Race

 Marianne Vos becomes the only rider to
 win La Flèche five times
Last year, as tends to be the case with every race she enters, Marianne Vos (Rabobank) was favourite to win La Flèche Wallonne Féminine and, had she have done so, she'd have set a new record as the only rider to have won five times. The World Champion is already the only rider to have won three consecutive editions and the only rider to have won four editions in total. (For comparison, the record holders in the men's race - Marcel Kint, Eddy Merckx, Moreno Argentin and Davide Rebellin won a total of three editions each. Only one rider, Welsh World Champion Nicole Cooke, comes close to Vos' achievement with three wins and two second places, while Italian Fabiana Luperini won three including the first edition in 1998).

It was not to be. Vos - who is as clever a rider as she is strong - made a rare mistake, expending too much energy in chasing down a break before launching a savage attack on the Mur de Huy, the final climb, allowing Evelyn Stevens (Specialized-Lululemon) to power past her with only metres left and become the first American winner in the history of the race.

Marianne is well-known for being one of the nicest riders in cycling, as well as the most successful of her generation, but she freely admits that she doesn't like to lose. This year, many riders were at La Flèche both to collect World Cup points and, if at all possible, prove themselves her equal, and they've had all winter to train hard (while she was busy dominating cyclo cross again, as well as preparing to make her return to mountain biking) in an effort to match her. She'll have known at the start of the season that she wasn't going to have things quite as easy this year as last - but her rivals, now they've had a few years in which to understand just how phenomenally, remarkably, perhaps even uniquely talented Vos actually is, will also have been aware that their efforts simply might not have been enough.

Ashleigh Moolman becomes the
first South African rider to stand
on a World Cup podium
Nothing comes easy in La Flèche, with difficult roads and a series of very difficult climbs, the most difficult of them being the legendary Mur de Huy with its average gradient of 9.3% and one corner reaching 26%. Then there were the five climbs en route to it, ranging from 3.9 to 7.6% average gradient - all of them, like the Mur, climbed twice. This is a race that can't be won, nor even completed, without a good deal of suffering.

The first 50km were livened up by numerous attempts to break away, but none succeeded in gaining more than 20" before being caught until a group of eight managed to find 42" on the fourth climb. The first ascent of the Mur broke up the peloton once more, but it reconvened (minus several abandons) on the other side, setting the stage for more attacks courtesy of Britain's Katie Colclough (Specialized-Lululemon), Alena Amialiusik (BePink) and Tatiana Guderzo (MCipollini-Giordana), but with so teams out to win, piling the pressure onto their rivals in an attempt to make sure their riders were in the best positions, each attack was swiftly put down and the race was very much undecided until the last ascent.

In the end, it came down to three riders: Hitec Products-UCK's Elisa Longo Borghini who has attained the best form of her career so far this season, Lotto-Belisol's superb climber Ashleigh Moolman, and Vos. Then, when the steepest part of the Mur had taken its toll, the 25-year-old Dutch rider pulled off a characteristic move, finding strength deep down that nobody else could match - when she attacked, Moolman and Longo Borghini could only watch her go and fight one another for second and third. She won with enough time to sit up and cross the line with arms held aloft as she became the only rider, male or female, to have won La Flèche five times.

(Results below)


Elisa Longo Borghini has really come
into form this season and took a
hard-fought second place
Top Ten
1 Marianne VOS (Rabobank) 3h34'32"
2 Elisa LONGO BORGHINI (Hitec Products-UCK) ST
3 Ashleigh MOOLMAN (Lotto-Belisol) ST
4 Anna VAN DER BREGGEN (Sengers) +06"
6 Eleonora VAN DIJK (Specialized-Lululemon) +19"
7 Alena AMIALIUSIK (BePink) +25"
8 Amber NEBEN (Pasta Zara-Congeas) +28"
9 Tiffany CROMWELL (Orica-AIS) +33"
10 Jessie DAAMS (Boels-Dolmans) ST
Full result here

New World Cup Standings
1 Marianne VOS (Netherlands/Rabobank) 249
2 Ellen VAN DIJK (Netherlands/Specialized-Lululemon) 159
3 Elisa LONGO BORGHINI (Italy/Hitec Products-UCK) 155
4 Emma JOHANSSON Sweden/Orica-AIS) 147
5 Anna VAN DER BREGGEN (Netherlands/Sengers) 76
6 Annemiek VAN VLEUTEN Netherlands/Rabobank) 56
7 Elizabeth ARMITSTEAD (Great Britain/Boels-Dolmans) 45
8 Tiffany CROMWELL (Australia/Orica-AIS) 42
9 Kirsten WILD (Netherlands/Argos-Shimano) 38
10 Ashleigh MOOLMAN (South Africa/Lotto-Belisol) 35
Full standings here

Friday 22 March 2013

Ronde van Gelderland 2013

14.04.2013 Official Site
Netherlands, One-day Road Race, 139km
UCI 1.2

The Ronde van Gelderland is perhaps unique in that it started as a race for men in 1957 and was then held almost annually (except 1975-1981 and 2001) until 2003 when a women's race was added, then continued from that date to the present as a women's race only. For the first five years of the women's competition it was dominated by Dutch riders - Yvonne Troost-Brunens won in 2003, Leontien van Moorsel in 2004, Suzanne de Goede in 2005, Bertine Spijkerman in 2006 and then Marianne Vos in her second professional year in 2007. Canadian Anne Samplonius became the first (and so far the only) non-European rider to win with her 2008 victory, then German Ina-Yoko Teutenberg won in 2009 before Kirsten Wild took the honours back for the Netherlands a year later. Teutenberg became the first rider to have won twice with another victory in 2011 and de Goede repeated her feat 2012. In the last few years, the Australian flag has also been a regular on the podium lists courtesy of Rochelle Gilmore; the owner, manager and rider of the British-registered Wiggle-Honda team was second in 2009 and 2010 and third in 2011.

The Parcours
Click to enlarge
The race always starts and finishes at Apeldoorn, home to the famous Omnisport Velodrome that hosted the 2011 World Track Cycling Championships. Each year, it also hosts the Six Days of Apeldoorn.

Very much a race of two halves, the first 41km in the forested Veluwe features several climbs whereas the remaining 98km are almost entirely flat. The altimetry profile as printed in the official race book is somewhat unintentionally misleading, being "squashed up" so that the climbs appear far steeper than they in fact are: the first climb is Terlet, gaining some 75m in 4km to reach 90m above sea level 9km after the start line, has an average gradient of only 1.8%, but the first half climbs more rapidly before it levels out approaching the top; Kemperbergweg reaches 80m at 20.4km and features 40m of climbing in 2km, an average gradient of 2%; Moonikensteeg rises to 75m at 28.1km, doing so in 0.9km gives an average gradient of 4.4%; the pleasingly-named Emmapyramide reaches 82m at 32.8km with 40m of climbing in 1.4km for an average of 2.9%; Zijpenberg is the highest hill in the race, climbing to 107m at 34.8km with an average gradient of 2.3% on the 3.3km ascent; final climb Posbank tops out at 95m 40.9km from the start, the 75m gained in 2.2km giving it an average gradient of 3.1% - the highest in the race.

Even coming within the same 41km, those are not altitudes and gradients that would be especially taxing to a professional cyclist. However, Gelderland has further trials for them: the remainder of the race following the IJssel river valley may be flat but it's subject to strong winds that blow in off the North Sea from the north-west - the direction in which the riders will be traveling for most of the way back to Apeldoorn. The sprinters will have used up more energy than the climbers in the Veluwe, whereas the climbers don't have the strength to fight the wind - if it's windy, therefore, nobody has an obvious advantage as the finish line draws near.

Click to enlarge
Setting out from the Omnisport Velodrome, the riders complete a 7km neutralised zone ending on Arnhemseweg, where the official start is located 100m south from the roundabout at the end of Laan van Malkenschoten. The road narrows after 1.7km, riders then continie south via Beekbergen for 5.5km to Woeste Hoeve where, after a wide left-hand bend, the road crosses a bridge over the A50 motorway and becomes the Groenendaalseweg; 107m after the bridge a right turn takes them onto the Oude Arnhemseweg, a forest road much narrower than those that come before and a potential hazard if the entire peloton tries to get onto it at the same time - and, if any riders who don't have much chance of winning have successfully formed a break by this point, for them to increase their advantage for some sponsor-pleasing time out in front before chasers from rival teams can find a way through the pack to bring them back. Following the road south leads to Groenendaal and then, after 9km, to Terlet.

Having completed the climb, there are 7.2km to the right turn onto Koningsweg and then 4.2km past Noordoostelijk van Schaarsbergen to a left at a roundabout onto Kempberweg for the second climb leading to Arnhem at 23.7km. At the end of the road they turn left onto Schelmeseweg and proceed for 1.4km to a right turn onto the wide Cattepoelseweg, taking it for 1.2km until they reach a left and progress along Wagnerlaan - the junction is complicated, but the "lane" is a wide, smooth dual carriageway road and can be taken at high speed. After passing underneath Apeldoornweg, the road becomes the Bosweg; 1.27km the route turns left onto Rosendaalseweg, then left again 156m later to begin the third climb on Monnikensteeg. After passing a sportsground on the right, a right turn at traffic lights carries the race back onto the Schelmeseweg leading into Rosendaal. A bridge over the E45 motorway takes the road into forest, then left at a roundabout 32.3km from the start takes the riders onto Kerklaan. 0.5km later, at a pretty cottage surrounded by trees, they continue straight ahead on Beekhuizenweg and ride through the forest to a junction with Boerenallee, which climbs for 0.5km to the top of Emmapyramide at a right/left S-bend (with trees growing right on the edges of the road, conditions may be slippery and punctures are likely) after which the road becomes known as the Bovenallee. A short way ahead, the riders reach a T-junction and turn left to rejoin Beekhuizenweg which climbs to the top of Zijpenberg.

2.5km further on, a right turn follows the edge of the forest along Snippendaalseweg; the road surface along this section is formed of regular, flat, brick-like cobbles, smooth enough not to slow things down as the riders battle to find places on the much narrower road. The route soon heads back into the forest, leading for 2.5km to Rheden, a fast and potentially dangerous descent to a left turn at 39.8km onto Arnhemsestraatweg and, 1.1km later, another left at another roundabout for Schietbergseweg and the Posbank climb. At 43.1km, with all the climbing over, a right turn by a picnic area with a viewpoint takes the race to the Beekhuizenweg, along the forest edge to another right at 44.4km for the Holleweg. The Holleweg becomes the Rozenbos, then a right followed by a left at a T-junction leads onto the Hoofdstraat at De Steeg. A short way ahead, the IJssel can be seen to the right, marking the change in the character of the race - from now on, with all the climbs over, the race passes through stereotypically flat Dutch countryside.

Final circuit - click to enlarge
After 122.km, the race reaches a road called De Voorwarts at Apeldoorn and enters the final circuit of 16.7km. A right turn leads onto the Laan van Erica, then a left 0.1km later finds De Groene Voorwarts leading for a flat and straight 1.1km to a T-junction and right turn onto Barnewinkel. 0.3km later, riders turn left onto Woudheizermark, then crosses Zutphensestraat to become the much narrower Grote Woudhuis - arriving at high speed, there may be clashes at the front of the pack as it squeezes into the reduced space. If any riders are still out in front, chasers will be setting out here to catch them and bring them back so that team leaders can get into good positions for the final sections leading to the finish. A left at Ecofactorij is followed by a right onto Energiweg, then a left at a T-junction leads onto the Ijsseldijk before a right onto Zutphensistraat; at De Kaar the road forks and the riders take the Oude Apeldoornseweg at a point marking 10km to the finish. 0.4km further on, a left finds the Ardeweg, then another left leads onto the very narrow Leemsteeg heading south-west until it reaches a sharp right-hand bend, then it travels north to a left turn onto Heeringstraat.

Heeringstraat travels south before turning sharply right onto Nieuw Schuilenberg, then a left leads back to Ecofactorij where the riders reverse the route taken earlier along Grote Woodhuis and Woudhuizermark into the final 3km, then back along Barnewinkel, De Groene Voorwarts and Laan van Erica to reach the final left turn onto De Voorwarts. The route encircles the Omnisport Velodrome, then enters the last 800m along De Voorwarts. With this section being flat and straight,  the race looks set to finish with a high-speed bunch sprint unless a break has succeeded in staying away.

The Race
Willeke Knol
As expected, the sprinters took control of the race as soon as the climbs were over and done. Shara Gillow (Orica-AIS) had been out in front for some time until, 30km before the finish line, the teams decided it was time to bring her back. Annemiek van Vleuten (Rabobank) managed to bridge the gap once it'd been reduced to 30"; a potentially dangerous situation as the two riders working together might have been able to maintain, even increase, their lead and finish the race with a duel.

Argos-Shimano weren't having any of it and understandably so because in Kirsten Wild they have a sprinter who, if there was any justice in the cycling world, would be as much a household name as Mark Cavendish; if they could bring the two leaders back and thus make sure the race ended in a bunch sprint, they'd virtually guarantee themselves a victory. Two of Wild's team mates,  Under-23 European Pursuit Champion Amy Pieters and Most Aggressive rider from the 2012 Holland Ladies' Tour Willeke Knol, laid down a fine example of what domestiques are employed to do when they found new reserves of strength to bring down the two more experienced leaders, ensuring that the rest of the Argos team could put Wild where she needed to be. The plan worked splendidly - 38 riders approached the finish together, but none of them was able to overpower Dutch powerhouse Wild.
Amy Pieters

Top Ten

1. Kirsten WILD (Argos-Shimano) 3h31'04"
2. Giorgia BRONZINI (Wiggle Honda) ST
3. Chloe HOSKING (Hitek Products-UCK) ST
4. Carmen SMALL (Specialized-Lululemon) ST
5. Katarzyna PAWLOWSKA (GSD Gestion-Kallisto) ST
6. Elisa LONGO BORGHINI (Hitek Products-UCK) ST
7. Lisa BRENNAUER (Specialized-Lululemon) ST
8. Emma JOHANSSON (Orica-AIS) ST
9. Jolien D’HOORE (Lotto-Belisol) ST
10. Annemiek VAN VLEUTEN (Rabobank) ST
Full results

The Princess Maha Chackri Sirindhon's Cup 2013

Thailand, Road Race, 3 stages, 276.7km
UCI 2.2

Also known - fortunately - as the Women's Tour of Thailand, The Princess Maha Chackri Sirindhon's Cup was first held in 2012 when it was contested largely by riders from the Far East. China's Lin Xiu, riding for Chongming-Giant, won with an overall time of 8h58'43"; Japan's Mayuko Hagiwara, who then rode for Cycle Base Asahi but has since signed to Rochelle Gilmore's British-registered Wiggle-Honda team, was ten seconds slower for second place while Korean Sun Ae Choi was third at +1'29". There appears to be no official website for the race.

Though it lasts for three days, the race bears obvious similarities to a Flanders Classic - there are no mountains with the highest points attaining just 50-60m above sea level, but the climbs are steep and sufficiently numerous for the cumulative effect to prove decisive.


Stage 1 (08.04.13)
Stage 1
Taking the form of a 71.4km loop, Stage 1 started at Phuket City before heading north and into a circuit, then took the same roads back to Phuket. There were no big climbs along the way, the highest points (approximately 35km and 56km) being just 50m above sea level while the final three kilometres are largely downhill (though there's a sharp climb followed by a short descent in the last 430m). While small, the hills threw a cat among the sprinters and pruned a bunch sprint that could have been equal in number to the entire peloton down to just five breakaway riders. Huang Ting Ying (Taipei), winner of the silver medals for the Team Sprint and 500m at the 2007 Junior World Track Championships, led the race over the line with Thuy Dung Nguyen (Vietnam) and Wilaiwan Kunlapha taking second and third. After bonification, Ting Ying leads the General Classification by 1"

Stage 1 Top Ten
1 Huang TING YING (Taipei) 1h53'10"
Stage 1 profile
2 Thuy Dung NGUYEN (Vietnam) ST
3 Wilaiwan KUNLAPHA (Thailand) ST
4 Bo Yee LEUNG (Hong Kong) ST
5 Minami UENO (Japan) ST
6 Mei Yu HSIAO (Taipei) +3'11"
7 Zhao Juan MENG (Hong Kong) ST
8 Panawaraporn BOONSAWAT (Thailand) ST
9 Xiao Juan DIAO (Hong Kong) ST
10 Supaksorn NUNTANA (Thailand) ST
Full result and GC here

Stage 2 (09.04.2013)
Stage 2
Running for 83.3km north from Phuket to Phang Nga, the parcours had more small climbs with none gaining much more than 20m; however, they were steep - but not steep enough to cause any large splits in the bunch, most of whom finished together. A couple of little climbs of around 5m at the beginning of the final 3km followed by a 2km descent to the finish enabled Jaruan Somrat (Thailand) to finish with an 8" lead over second and third place Jariya Chumlae (Thailand) and Wan Yiu Jamie Wong (Hong Kong).

Huang Ting Ying (Taipei) finished in fourth place 14" down, losing her General Classification lead to Thuy Dung Nguyen, who was seventh with the same time as Ting Ying and now leads overall by 2".

Stage 2 Top Ten
1 Jaruwan SOMRAT (Thailand) 2h16'54"
2 Jariya CHUMLUAE (Thailand) +08"
3 Wan Yiu Jamie WONG (Hong Kong) ST
Stage 2 profile
4 Huang TING YING (Taipei) +14"
5 Xiao Juan DIAO (Hong Kong) ST
6 Mei Yu HSIAO (Taipei) ST
7 Thuy Dung NGUYEN (Vietnam) ST
8 Phan Ngoc Trang (Vietnam) ST
9 Wilaiwan KUNLAPHA (Thailand) ST
10 Minami UENO (Japan) ST
Full result and GC here
Stage 3 (10.04.2013)

Stage 3
Starting where Stage 2 left off at Phang Nga, the parcours led back to Phuket but followed the same route only over the first part of the race, then deviated to give a total of 122km. The highest points were once again around 50m above sea level, but there were plenty more steep climbs to get to them and, as was the case yesterday, they served to split the bunch with a group of four riders getting away before making good use of the final 3km: mostly downhill with one sort section at 119.8km looking steep enough to give those riders that don't enjoy descents some problems. This section allowed Mei Yu Hsaio (Taipei), Zhao Juan Meng (Hong Kong), Panawaraporn Boonsawat (Thailand), Hiromi Kaneko (Japan) and Ho Hsiung Huang (Taipei) to preserve their lead of over a minute and a half going into the last few hundred metres where a 12m climb led to a very slightly downhill run to the final 300m. Huang dropped off on the final approach, finishing 3" behind the other leaders who shared Hsaio's winning time of 3h08'23".

Thuy Dung Nguyen of Vietnam came in 2'42" after the stage winner, taking ninth place, but having started the day 3'21" ahead of Hsaio and with all her nearest rivals finishing the stage well down in the standings her General Classification was never in any doubt; she finishes the race with an advantage of 2".
Stage 3 profile

Stage 3 Top Ten
1 Mei Yu HSIAO (Taipei) 3h08'23"
2 Zhao Juan MENG (Hong Kong) ST
3 Panawaraporn BOONSAWAT (Thailand) ST
4 Hiromi KANEKO (Japan) ST
5 Ho Hsiung HUANG (Taipei) +03"
6 Wan Yiu Jamie WONG (Hong Kong) +1'35"
7 Hsiao Chia TSENG (Taipei) +2'39"
8 Huang TING YING (Taipei) +2'42"
9 Thuy Dung NGUYEN (Vietnam) ST
10 Xiao Juan DIAO (Hong Kong) +2'48"
Full results here

General Classification Top Ten 
1 Thuy Dung NGUYEN (Vietnam) 4h10'06"
2 Huang TING YING (Taipei) +02"
3 Wilaiwan KUNLAPHA (Thailand) +06"
4 Bo Yee LEUNG (Hong Kong) +11"
5 Minami UENO (Japan) +12"
6 Jaruwan SOMRAT (Thailand) +2'59"
7 Jariya CHUMLUAE (Thailand) +3'11"
8 Wan Yiu Jamie WONG (Hong Kong) +3'13"
9 Mei Yu HSIAO (Taipei) +3'21"
10 Xiao Juan DIAO (Hong Kong) +3'22"
Full GC result here

(Map and altimetry details via Procycling Stats)

Women's Tour of Britain for 2014?

Organisers of the Tour of Britain SweetSpot say that they are investigating the possibility of holding a five-stage women's version of the race as early as Spring 2014. Details remain sketchy, but race director Mike Bennett says that he has spoken to riders and teams and the plan has been met with enthusiasm.

Emma Pooley, along with several other
British female riders, have been calling
for  a women's Tour for some time
In 2012, the women's road race at the Olympics proved to be enormously popular with viewing figures suggesting that large numbers of people without a previous interest in the sport tuned in to see the epic battle between Britain's Lizzie Armitstead and Dutch star Marianne Vos. Many later said that it had been a more exciting race than the men's event.

Running the race in Spring, separate from the men's race, seems an unusual choice - in Belgium, where women's cycling is more popular than elsewhere, several organisers run women's races alongside men's races in order to save on costs and guarantee that larger numbers of fans will show up. Emma Pooley, winner of the last Tour de France Féminin in 2009, has long called for the Tour of Britain to do the same.

With cycling's popularity currently on the up in Britain, presenting women's races as stand-alone events that do not need to be run in conjunction with men's races may help to send out a message to new fans that the sport is every bit as exciting and competitive as men's cycling, rather than suggesting that it can only exist "off the back" of men's races.

"It seems an obvious and logical step forward given the strength of women's cycling in this country and the enthusiasm for the sport generally," says Bennett.

In December it was revealed that British Cycling was considering putting the contract to run the race out to tender; news emerged hours after SweetSpot's announcement that Tour de France organisers the Amaury Sports Organisation was interested in bidding for the race - "It's something we're looking into, but I can't say too much," ASO president Jean-Etienne Amaury told the BBC. "But if we can make it something more compelling for TV and spectators, then we'd go for it," he added.

In addition to the Tour de France, the ASO also runs seventeen other cycling events including the Vuelta a Espana, Tours of Qatar, Oman and Beijing, the Criterium International and Paris-Roubaix. Only two of them - La Flèche Wallonne Féminine and the Ladies' Tour of Qatar - are women's events; but with the Women's Tour of Britain being a separate race to the men's race, it seems likely that SweetSpot would retain the right to organise and run it.

Whenever it's held, a women's Tour is clearly excellent news for the sport, in this country and abroad, and it's far more likely to take place if fans let organisers know how enthusiastic we are about the plan. Feel free to copy and paste the following, and send it to info@thetour.co.uk

As a passionate fan of women's cycling, I'm overjoyed and excited to hear that there could be a women's Tour of Britain as early as 2014. I would definitely travel to see at least one stage and would follow the race from start to finish - and with all the success enjoyed by Britain's female cyclists over the last few years, I'm sure that large numbers of people who are already fans and those who have discovered the sport since the Olympics would do the same. I'm hoping, therefore, that plenty of people will send emails similar to this one so that you can show potential sponsors that there really is a potentially massive audience out here who will watch the race.

Many thanks for getting the ball rolling - there are a lot of us out here who will support the race!


<your name>

Thursday 21 March 2013

Grand Prix de Dottignies 2013

01.04.2013 Official Site
Belgium, One-day Road Race, 113.76km
UCI 1.2

If you'd just spent your Sunday dealing variously with the sort of cobbles that make bits fall off your bike and climbs as steep as 20%, you'd probably want to spend Monday in bed, right? I know I would. But then, I'm not a professional female cyclist, and there's no way I could cope with doing all of that one day and then racing for another 114km less than 24 hours later (nor, for that matter, could I cope with taking part in either race) - but that's precisely what several of the riders taking part in this year's GP de Dottignies did, because it took  place the day after the Ronde van Vlaanderen.

The Race
Using the popular "circuits" format with four laps around a 28.44km course, the race featured three climbs in the first half of each lap. The first of these, Ronceval, began shortly after the start and reached a peak of 48m 3.33km into the race - it's the longest climb on the parcours and as a result isn't especially steep, though the maximum 5.3% gradient will undoubtedly have felt increasingly difficult each time the riders climbed it. GPM points were on offer for the first riders to the top on Laps 2 and 4. The second climb, Kooigembosberg, also reached 48m (peak 9.17km); however, the ascent is far shorter at 1.2km and the gradient, therefore, steeper with a maximum of around 12.2% through the woods just after the junction with Grote Dalestraat. GPM points were awarded on Lap 1. The third climb, Sint-Denijsberg, is lower with a peak of 37m 12.05km into the parcours; the steepest point is 7.7% and located by the Sint-Denijs church. GPM points were awarded on Lap 3.

In addition to the climbs, there were two cobbled sections. The first is 300m in length and located 7.31km into the race on Kooigemstraat immediately after the right-hand turn from Koninklijkestraat; partially covered in tarmac, they didn't look to be particularly challenging but must have hurt bodies made tender by yesterday's rough stuff. The second stretch was longer at 700m and located on Jacquetbosstraat 23.47km from the start; they began at the left-hand turn onto the road and run along the sides of a central tarmac strip, starting rough but becoming smoother to the end of the section.

With the climbs not being especially challenging and completely flat final 3km ending with a straight section of  300m to the finish line after the left-hand turn onto the Rue du Sous-Lieutenant Catoire at Dottignies, this was a race that looked on paper to be suited to the sprinters and most likely to end with a bunch sprint - but it didn't. A group numbering thirteen riders (five of them from Rabobank) got away from the pack soon after the first lap started, but never managed to increase its advantage to much more than a minute. However, a combination of the group's strength and lack of concerted efforts to bring them back once the peloton split apart into several small groupsin strong crosswinds meant that a minute was plenty long enough.

Vera Koedooder, who took the time to
say thanks for this report!
The lead group members started attacking one another with some 20km still to go and, before long, were reduced in number with only Sanne van Paassen, Roxane Knetemann and Iris Slappendel (Rabobank), Vera Koedooder (Sengers), Laura Trott (Wiggle-Honda), Alena Amialyusik (BePink), Esther Fennel (Koga) and Katarzyna Pawlowska (GSD-Gestion) hanging on as the pace stepped up. Dutch Madison Champion (shared with Marianne Vos) Knetemann was the first to attempt a break and successfully created a small gap before Koedooder caught her, then the group swept them up again. Slappendel went next, but was brought back even more rapidly.

Finally, Koedooder launched her own attack. Slappendel tried to catch her, but Koedooder simply accelerated; Slappendel's response - more acceleration - caused the pair to get faster and faster, but finally it was Koedooder who proved to have the greater reserves, staying 6" ahead of her persuer and 48" ahead of the next rider at the line to take a well-fought and deserved second victory of the season.

Meanwhile, back down the road, what was left of the lead group ensured that fans who'd been hoping for a bunch sprint were not disappointed; van Paassen got her position on the podium after a thrilling high-speed battle with the five others.

Click to enlarge


1 Vera KOEDOODER (Sengers) 2h57'23"
2 Iris SLAPPENDEL (Rabobank-Liv/Giant) +6"
3 Sanne VAN PAASSEN (Rabobank-Liv/Giant) +48"
4 Laura TROTT (Wiggle-Honda) ST
5 Katarzyna PAWLOWSKA (GSD-Gestion) ST
6 Alena AMIALIUSIK (BePink) ST
7 Roxane KNETEMANN (Rabobank-Liv/Giant) ST
8 Esther FENNEL (Koga) ST
9 Emilia FAHLIN (Hitec Products-UCK) +1'33"
10 Alexandra BURCHENKOVA (RusVelo) ST

Full results here

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Ronde van Vlaanderen 2013

31.03.2013 Official Site
Belgium, One-day Monument/World Cup Road Race, 128.8km

The Ronde is finally added to Vos' palmares
With fifteen UCI Elite Women's events and four continental championships already raced, the Ronde van Vlaanderen was the first Monument of the year in men's and women's racing. It's a race with a long history: the men's race was first held in 1913 and, over the years, it's become considered the joint most prestigious alongside next weekend's legendary Paris-Roubaix, for which reason it's contested by the best riders - a list of winning men reads like a list of the most famous cyclists of all time: Schotte, van Steenbergen, Magni, Simpson, Merckx, de Vlaeminck, Museeuw, Boonen, Cancellara. The women's race is of far more recent vintage, having first been held in 2004, but already the roll call of winners is a list of the greatest riders in the sport: Zabirova (2004), Melchers-van Poppel (2005/2006), Cooke (2007), Arndt (2008/2012), Teutenberg (2009), Verbeke (2010), van Vleuten (2011).

One name surprisingly wasn't on that list until 2013. Marianne Vos was a favourite to win in 2012 but had to be replaced at the last moment by Sarah Düster due to catching the 'flu; she was, predictably and entirely justifiably, delighted after winning in thrilling style despite feeling ill before the race again this year. She'll no doubt be pleased that she had to fight for it, too: two years ago, the Dutch rider seemed without equal, now there are several riders who have trained long and hard to be able to rival her and women's cycling has become more competitive as a result. Marianne, who loves only her sport more than she loves winning, probably takes as much satisfaction from knowing that she caused that as she does from being able to say that she has now won all the major competitions in women's road cycling.

The Race
Click to enlarge
Some races retain the same route year after year - and understandably so, as sending route finders out on reconnaissance missions costs money that could be spent on other aspects of the event (this is especially true in women's cycling as many races are run on shoestring budgets). The Ronde, meanwhile, tends to change with each edition as organisers add new sections and alter the order in which the hills are climbed, making them more or less decisive than in years past - but not this year, when the route was almost identical to 2012 with only a small alteration near Gavere some 11.5km in while Molenberg, missed out last year, became the first climb and Rekelberg, first last year, was second.

It remained  as classically a Flandrian race as can be, featuring a hard and challenging parcours with several cobbled sections that, despite lack of rain, were made especially dangerous by the potential for icy patches in sheltered areas due temperatures not much above freezing point - a nasty crash en route to Molenberg forced Jessie Maclean (Orica-AIS) out of the race when she hit her head, though she escaped injury. The Ronde, like many of the other races in Flanders, is also famous for the numerous short but very steep climbs - Rekelberg, for example: the average gradient over its 0.8km is 4% which doesn't sound too bad, but the steepest part at a painful 9% would be more than enough to persuade many non-professional cyclists to get off and push. Oh - and it was the easiest climb in the race. Paterberg, the toughest, has an average gradient of 12.9% and a maximum 20.3% - in Flemish, that's known as brutaal.

Click to enlarge

The climbs were Molenberg, 37.8km, average 7%, maximum 14.2% (a few riders had to dismount and run up); Rekelberg, 52.4km, av. 4%, max. 9%; Berendries, 57.8km, av. 7%, max. 12.3%; Valkenberg, 63.1km, av. 8.1%, max. 12.8%; Kaperij, 75.4km, 5.5%, max. 9%; Kanarieberg, 82.8km, av. 7.7%, max. 14%; Kruisberg/Hotond, 91.2km, av. 5%, max. 9%; Oude Kwaremont, 101km, av. 4%, max. 11.6% and Paterberg, 104.4km, av. 12.9%, max. 20.3%; Hoogberg/Hotond, 111.4km, av. 3.5%, max. 8%. Few riders troubled themselves with trying to break away, perhaps preferring to stay with the pack to keep warm; special mention must go to Suzanne Zorzi (Faren-Let's Go Finland) for managing to put a gap of two minutes between herself and the peloton before she was brought back. Lucinda Brand (Rabobank) and Amanda Spratt (Orica-AIS) had a go between Kruisberg and Oude Kwaremont but were not permitted to get any further than a few seconds ahead.

Paterberg, 23km from the finish line, was expected to prove decisive with any group or individual that could get to the climb at the front of the peloton, remain ahead as the pack began to break up and then maintain their lead over Hoogberg would be in with a very good chance of staying in front to the end; as indeed was the case - Vos, Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Hitec Products-UCK) escaped on Oude Kwaremont and worked together to build up a comfortable lead, which makes Ellen van Dijk's successful efforts to bridge and join them all the more impressive. Johansson tried to attack Vos at the top of the climb but found Longo Borghini and van Dijk unable to assist; then more attacks came as Oudenaarde approached, driving the pace so high that the Orica rider found herself temporarily dropped until she made an effort every bit as superhuman as van Dijk's and managed to rejoin, setting the scene for a classic sprint finish.

Vos, showing exactly why she's so frequently compared to Eddy Merckx (except by the ever-increasing number of fans who argue she's the better rider), launched her sprint early and silenced those who wondered if sixth place at last week's Trofeo Alfredo Binda might be a sign that the current World Champion was devoting too much time and attention to her newly-rekindled mountain biking career, holding off the other three all the way to the line before a final, forceful attack powered her to victory. She knew she'd finally added the Ronde to her palmares with 25m still to go, letting out a whoop of joy that was answered with a roar of support from the fans while van Dijk found the strength to battle past Johansson for second place.

"We tried everything we could to get away from Marianne. She just has that little kick that makes it impossible to escape from her,” van Dijk told reporters after the race. Vos now has 174 following three rounds of the World Cup, with van Dijk second in the standings on 135 points and Johansson third with 120.

Top Ten
Start list - lick to enlarge
1 Marianne VOS (Rabobank-Liv/Giant) 3h33'21"
2 Eleonora VAN DIJK (Specialized-Lululemon) ST
4 Elisa LONGO BORGHINI (Hitec Products-UCK) ST
5 Annemiek VAN VLEUTEN (Rabobank-Liv/Giant) +2'37"
6 Adrie VISSER (Boels-Dolmans) ST
7 Anna VAN DER BREGGEN (Sengers) ST
9 Elizabeth ARMITSTEAD (Boels-Dolmans) +2'39"
10 Kirsten WILD (Argos-Shimano) +4'33"
Full result here

As ever, the coverage given to the women's race was woeful when compared to that the men's event received - as bemoaned by fans and riders alike on Twitter and elsewhere. Fortunately, encouraged by the enormous popularity of the women's road race at the 2012 Olympics and the constant badgering by fans (keep it up, folks!), the UCI has finally come to realise that, provided it's made available and accessible to the public, there is a considerable audience for women's cycling and, as a result, it's started to provide highlights on its official YouTube channel. It's a long was from the sort of coverage the sport deserves and needs, and tends to be irritatingly brief, but it's a start - and there'll be a more in-depth half-hour highlights programme available soon.