Wednesday 31 July 2013

Lotto-Belisol Belgium Tour 2013

23-26.08.2013 Official Site
Belgium, 4-stage Road Race, 332.5km
UCI 2.2

If you want to be rich, women's cycling is not the place to go seeking your fortune - most of the teams operate on notoriously tiny budgets and riders can never be certain that their sponsors won't suddenly announce they're ending their links with the sport which, in all too many cases when the team is unable to find a new sponsor, means the end. Fortunately, there are a few companies out there that are willing to ignore the bean-counters and put in large amounts of money for returns that, as women's cycling doesn't receive anything like the exposure that men's cycling does, often seem not to make sound financial sense. Rabobank proved itself to be a company that genuinely cares when it elected to continue sponsoring a women's team after pulling out of men's cycling entirely; Boels, a plant machinery firm, is another example, one that sponsors a team and three races (the Boels Ronde van Drenthe, which took place in March, the Boels Hills Classic in May and Boels Ladies' Tour, previously known as the Holland Ladies' Tour and one of the most prestigious events on the Elite Women's calendar, which will take place early in September). There is also Lotto, the Belgian national lottery, and Belisol, a Belgian manufacturer of solar panels, doors and windows - together, they sponsor the Lotto-Belisol men's and women's teams and this race, the Tour of Belgium.

Unlike the Tour de France, which has stages that start in one town and end in another, the Belgium Tour is more like a rock band's tour - it visits a different town each day and the riders then compete on a circuit that starts and ends at the town. This has numerous advantages, chiefly that costs are cut by having each stage consist of several laps rather than one long parcours and fans get to see the race pass by several times, either by remaining at the same point or by moving around to see it from different places.

Stage 1: Warquignies-Angreu (23.08.2013, 19.7km Team Time Trial)

View Tour of Belgium Stage 1 2013 in a larger map
The only non-circuit stage of the race, Stage 1 will see the teams putting their bike handling skills to the test with a series of very sharp corners in the first two kilometres, where it'd be very easy indeed to lose a couple of riders to unfortunate crashes and end up with insufficient numbers to even be awarded a time - which would mean race over. Once through, there's a forested section (which always increases the likelihood of punctures, which can be disastrous when racing against the clock) with a climb of around 70m in 2.5km, then a long and flat straight section running south-west along the Av. du Haut-Pays where the fastest squads will be able to get their heads down and find a serious time advantage against those who haven't been practicing their TTT tactics quite so much as they ought. Another very sharp bend then leads onto the remaining part of the parcours, finishing 19.7km (which is why it's a stage rather than a prologue; a prologue in an Elite Women's race cannot be longer than 4km according to UCI rule 2.6.006).
The route uses many open lanes running alongside flat, wide fields; although the parcours is in Wallonia, the region is subject to typically Flandrian wind and rain - with so little shelter along much of the route, the stage could become an ordeal if the weather is bad. There is also a cobbled section on the Rue des Juifs at Onnezies; however, the cobbles are flat, regularly-placed and in good condition, they will therefore not cause the riders serious problems.

Stage 2: Angreau (24.08.2013, 110.16km)

View Tour of Begium 2013 Stage 2 in a larger map
Stage 2 both begins and ends at the Place d'Angreu, where Stage 1 also finished. From the start line, the riders head into a 12.24km circuit taking them first south to Roisin; they then travel north-east to the first GPM climb of the race - the Cote du Autreppe (5.48km from the start, points awarded at 5.48km, 29.96km, 54.44km, 78.92km, 103.4km), where points will be awarded during the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th and final lap. There are also four intermediate sprints, each of which begins as the riders cross the finish line during the 2nd, 4th, 6th and 8th laps (24.48km, 48.96km, 73.33km, 97.92km).

A tight left-hand turn leads onto the narrow Rue d'Autreppe, at which point the parcours will be familiar to the riders as it now follows the same route via Onnezies (including the 300m Rue des Juifs cobbles), Angre, Honnelles and back to Angreau.

Riders must complete nine laps of the circuit; the Cote, though neither high nor steep, will have a considerable cumulative effect and there'll be some sore knees on the final passage.
Stage 3: Nijlen (25.08.2013, 115.12km)

View Lotto-Belisol Belgium Tour 2013 Stage 3 in a larger map
The place names reveal that the Tour has left Wallonia behind and is now in Flanders, perhaps the most cycling-obsessed region in the world. Many of the little towns that dot the flat landscape have produced famous riders, including Nijlen where the race begins - it was the birthplace of Victor van Schil, trusted lieutenant of Eddy Merckx and winner of the 1968 Brabantse Pijl (sadly, van Schil took his own life in 2009 at the age of 69), Bjorn Leukemans (who may have won far more had he not have crashed so often) and Nick Nuyens, winner of the 2011 Ronde van Vlaanderen and husband of Evy van Damme, Belgian Road Race Champion in 2000 and 2001.

Most of the great Flemish races have taken place in warm, dry conditions in recent years, but for many people racing in this part of the world will always be associated with cold winds and driving rain. The parcours is far enough from the coast to avoid the worst, but with the topography being as flat as it is any wind blowing in from the North Sea rips across the land and still has plenty of power by the time it reaches Nijlen - crosswinds on the section heading west between Herenthout and Kruiskenberg and headwinds on the section heading north between Heikant and Nijlen may create some problems. Riders must complete nine laps of the 14.49km circuit, making the stage

There are no GPM points on offer on this, the flattest stage of the 2013 edition; the feed zone passes through an area known as Kruiskenberg, which sounds dauntingly like one of the brutally steep climbs for which Flemish racing is infamous, but which is in fact an undemanding hillock rising no higher than 20m with an average gradient of around 1.5% (maximum 3.5%). There are, however, four intermediate sprints. Each begins at the Cafe de Max located at Bevel-Dorp 160 in Bevel and points will be awarded on the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th laps (10.59km, 39.57km, 68.55km, 97.53km).

Stage 4: Geraardsbergen (26.08.2013, 87.47km)

View Lotto-Belisol Belgium Tour 2013 Stage 4 in a larger map

Rather than several identical laps like the earlier stages, Stage 4 consists of a total of four laps around three circuits; the first is 29.16km in length with one GPM climb and will be completed once, the second is 19.17km with no GPM climbs and will be completed once and the third, which is 19.57km in length and features one GPM climb, will be completed twice. There are also intermediate sprints when the parcours crosses the finish line for the first, second and third times.

The first circuit begins at marketplace in Geraardsbergen, a town that will be familiar any riders who took part in Gooik-Geraardsbergen-Gooik back in May - it's also been a feature in many editions of the Ronde van Vlaanderen over the years. Very soon after heading out into the neutral zone they'll catch glimpses of what, to cyclists, is Geraardsbergen's most famous feature, Kapelmuur, but for the time being they can concentrate on other things. Racing gets underway 1.9km from the start on Verhaegenlaan and the parcours remains unchallenging until Parikeberg, a 0.6km climb offering GPM points, with an average gradient of 5.8 and maximum of 7%; it is 21.44km from the end of the neutral zone. The remainder of the circuit runs back into Geraardsbergen, with several tight and potentially risky corners leading into the town.  The riders will take the last (non-GPM) climb to arrive at the start line at the market place, then continue to the first T-junction where earlier they turned right; now they turn left and follow Vesten, passing the finish line and contesting the intermediate sprint for the first time.

Riders tackle the Muur van Geraardsbergen
during the 2006 Ronde van Vlaanderen voor
A short while later they turn south onto Edingseweg, then west on Guilleminlaan and follow it through two sweeping curves until it joins Vesten heading south and the race then continues along the same route as earlier until reaching the T-junction at Priem. In Circuit 1, the riders turned left here to travel west; this time they turn east along Molenstraat, neatly avoiding Parikeberg. A few hundred metres ahead, they rejoin the Circuit 1 parcours and follow it back into Geraardbergen, taking the same route via the marketplace and back to the finish line where another intermediate sprint is contested.

To begin Circuit 3, the riders turn right before reaching the Oude Steenweg junction used in Circuit 2 and follow Oudebergstraat, a route that takes them directly to and over the notorious Kapelmuur - the reason that Geraardsbergen has featured in so many legendary races, Kapelmuur is, according to some, the toughest climb in East Flanders. With cobbles as large as steps and a maximum gradient of 19.8% (average is 9%), it's proved decisive many times and may well do so again today, even on the first lap of the circuit if one rider manages to get away and a crash in the peloton holds everyone else up - when that happens, many riders find it impossible to get going again on the steep slope and have to run up instead. Once over the top, the parcours takes Oudeberg and Dreipikkel for the short distance to Oude Steenweg and turns right, the remainder of the circuit following the route of Circuit 2. By the time the finish line approaches, those climbs will have taken their toll and there might not be any sprinters left in contention, in which case the race will be fought out by the climbers - unless, of course, one of them has built up a sufficient solo lead to win ahead of the pack.
Altimetry, Circuit 1 and Circuits 3/4


Ellen van Dijk
Lisa Brannauer
Gillian Carleton
Trixi Worrack
Evelyn Stevens
Katie Colclough
Loren Rowney

Kimberly Buyl
Joanne Hogan
Birgit Lavrijssen
Julia Soek
Evelyn Arys
Sofie de Vuyst
Vera Koedooder

Marijn de Vries
Jolien d'Hoore
Ann Sophie Duyck
Kaat Hannes
Steffi Lodewijks
Kim Schoonbaert
Celine can Severen

CycleLive Plus-Zannata
Annelies van Doorslaer
Carla Ryan
Annelies Dom
Daisy Depoorter
Monique van der Ree
Latoya Brulee
Liz Hatch

TopSport Vlaanderen-Bioracer
Jessy Druyts
Kelly Druyts
Else Belmans
Tessa de Moyer
Gilke Croket
Nel de Crits

Tibco-To The Top
Shelley Olds
Claudia Hausler
Chantal Blaak
Melanie Spath
Jasmine Glaesser
Lauren Stevens

Lizzie Armitstead
Adrie Visser
Romy Kasper
Nina Kessler
Jessie Daams
Martine Bras

Emma Johansson
Loes Gunnewijk
Gracie Elvin
Jessie MacLean
Tiffany Cromwell
Melissa Hoskins

Hitec Products-UCK
Rossella Ratto
Emilie Moberg
Thea Thorsen
Elisa Longo Borghini
Siri Minge
Cecilie Gotaas Johnsen
Chloe Hosking

Futurumshop NL
Karen Elzing
Sarah Lena Hofmann
Anouska Helena Koster
Mieke Kroger
Janine van der Meer
Mascha Pijnenborg

Crano Go:Green
Madeleine Olsson
Jessica Kihlbom
Linnea Sjobom
Hanna Nilsson
Martina Thomasson
Alexandra Nessmar
Hanna Helamb

Kirsten Wild
Fllortje Mackaij
Esra Tromp
Janneke Busser-Kanis
Willeke Knol
Kelly Markus
Amy Pieters

Wielerclub De Sprinters Malderen
Chantal Hoffmann
Sarah Ingelbrecht
Mieke Leeman
Lilianne Leenknegt
Steffy van den Haute
Laure Werner
Joyce Willems 

Mixed Team (Rabobank-Liv/Giant, Autoglass Wetteren, Group Solar, FCS)
Tamina Kate Oliver
Amy McGuire
Daniela Gass
Roxane Knetemann
Thalita de Jong
Marieke Blomme
Adeline de Vestele

Napoleon Games-St Martinus-Kerksken
Joyce Accoe
Evelien Deltombe
Nele Seghers
Helga Sibick
Janicke Gunvaldsen
Vittoria Bussi

Endura Lady Force
Ines Klok
Margriet Kloppenburg
Michelle Geoghegan
Natasja Nieuwenhuizen
iris van der Stelt
Marjolein Claessen
Elke Bolangier

Dura Vermeer
Kirsten Coppens
Rowena van de Klundert
Charlotte Peeters
Chantal Verstraten
Brigitta Roos
Natalie van Gogh
Demi de Jong

Geertje Hoeke
Olivia Koster
Mary Rose Postma
Danielle Lissenberg-Bekkering
Anne Peer
Nathalie van Katwijk
Femke van Kessel

Parkhotel Valkenburg
Aafke Eshuis
Bianca van den Hoek
Inge Klep
Riejanne Markus
Rozanne Slik
Lisanne Soemanta
Nathaly van Wesdonk

Water, Land en Dijken
Nike Beckering
Melissa Slewe
Bernadette Jeremiasse
Marleen de Kroon
Corrinne Smith
Sigird Jochem

Sofie van Horik
Annemarie Pasveer
Domenique van Santen
Harriet Koorn
Nina van Tol
Yvonne van Dam
Stella Blom-Visser

Les Filles Racing Team
Lydia Boylan
Nicola Juniper
Alexie Shaw
Helen Ralston
Nicole Oh
Nikki Engelbach
Kate Hewett

Mixed Team (Boretti, Matrix, Vanderkitten)
Sara Olsson
Kate Chilcott
Tracy Best
Emma Grant
Christina Siggard
Gina Hofland
Jessica Smits

RC Jan van Arckel
Moniek Tenniglo
Kristen Peetoom
Silke Kogelman
Winanda Spoor
Roos Hoogeboom
Hester Wagenaar
Britt Jansen

GSD Gestion-Kallisto

Keukens Redant

Canada NT
Anika Todd
Shoshauna Laxson
Sarah Coney
Annie Foreman-Mackie
Veronique Fortin
Veronique Labonte

Australia NT
Emily McRedmond
Madeline Marshall
Alexandria Nicholls
Samantha de Riter
Miranda Griffiths

Belgium NT

Further details to be announced; check Women Cycling Fever for regular updates.

Following the race
As is the case with the majority of Belgian races, getting to the Tour is a simple process from anywhere in North-Western Europe - including from the United Kingdom: traveling by ferry from Dover to Dunkirk with a car costs as little as £74 return (check online for deals; Hull to Zeebrugge, a better choice for much of Britain's population, is for some reason far more expensive - around £200 with a bike rather than a car) and none of the Tour towns are more than 180km from the port. Better still, travel by bike - port to race is a day's ride for a fit cyclist, two at a more comfortable pace and, with the Belgians' legendary love for bicycles and cyclists, you'll be sure of a warm welcome. None of the towns are tourist traps, so accommodation will also be affordable.

If you can't get there, the choices for following the race are typically limited to Twitter feeds. Hitec Products-UCK manager Karl Lima provides regular updates on the progress of his team and the rest; Boels-Dolmans mechanic Richie Steege and photojournalists Bart Hazen and Anton Vos (who may attend regarless of whether or not his sister Marianne Vos is there with the Rabobank-Liv/Giant team) are also good choices.

Open de Suède Vårgårda TTT and Road Race

16.08.2013 Official Site
Sweden, Team Time Trial, 42.5km

Sweden is not the first country most people think of if anyone asks them which nations most appreciate cycling but the sport enjoys considerable popularity in the south of the country, especially around Vårgårda - which has hosted the Postgiro Open and the two UCI Elite Women events to which the town has given its name - the Open de Suède Vårgårda TTT and, two days later, the Open de Suède Vårgårda road race. A World Cup event and generally considered to be fun in addition to a challenge, the Team Time Trial attracted thirteen teams last year with some of the most famous riders in the world in attendance: names such as Ina-Yoko Teutenberg, Ellen van Dijk, Loes Gunnewijk, Judith Arndt, Shara Gillow, Marianne Vos, Annemiek van Vleuten, Emma Pooley, Lizzie Armitstead, Emma Johansson, Hanka Kupfernagel, winner Trixi Worrack and many others were all there, and the 2013 edition should be much the same.

Bosse Anås' sculpture of the Bröderna Fåglum in Vårgårda
The town, home to a little over 5,000 people, was the birthplace of the Bröderna ("Brothers") Fåglum, four cycling brothers whose actual surname was Pettersson - their nickname came about because they all rode for a cycling club based in the village of Fåglum, some 14km north of Vårgårda. Two of the brothers, Erik and Tomas, legally adopted the name; Sture used it alongside Pettersson while Gösta, who won the Giro d'Italia in 1971 and is the only Swedish rider to have ever won that race, remains a Pettersson to this day.

Previous Winners
2008 Priska Doppmann
2009 Kristin Armstrong
2010 Charlotte Becker
2011 Judith Arndt
2012 Trixi Worrack


View Vårgårda CDM TTT 2013 in a larger map

With several tight corners - some of them made more technical by street furniture (Swedish town councils really love street furniture and erect signs wherever they can) and narrow roads - this is a challenging parcours that will favour teams which have spent a good deal of time honing their time trial skills. Expect a grand battle between Orica-AIS and Specialized-Lululemon, but keep an eye on the times set by Rabobank-Liv/Giant and Lotto-Belisol too.

The route is well-known for its crosswinds, which could prove especially problematic if they become headwinds on the 181 between Vårgårda and Herrljunga and again on the exposed bridge on Kullingsleden, approximately 32.5km into the race. There is only one testing climb along the route, coming just after 35km; although the total ascent is only 40m in 2km, it's sufficiently steep in sections and comes close enough to the end to potentially make a big difference.

Altimetry - click to enlarge
At the time of writing, Lotto-Belisol and Rabobank-Liv/Giant are the only teams listed as having confirmed. Karl Lima, manager of Hitec Products-UCK (who'll provide live updates during the race) informs Les Deesses that his team will also be racing and will be led by Emilia Fahlin. Keep up to date on developments with Women Cycling Fever.

Road Race
18.08.2013 Official Site
Sweden, One-day Road Race, 132km

Follow the race LIVE via the official ticker; we're also promised live streams of what looks set to be a wet and slippry race here!

Held since 2006 (two years earlier than the first TTT), the Vårgårda road race also forms a round of the World Cup. The parcours starts at the time trial finish line and follows a similar route; however, it omits the section leading east to Herrljunga and back again - riders travel north immediately after starting, then turn left to follow the time trial route along Storgatan, through and out of the town and then back in again. Note that completing the parcours entails eleven ascents of the big climb - although a gain of 50m in around 1.75km has an average gradient of a little under 3%, it's much steeper on the second third of the way up and, while not quite steep enough to finish off the sprinters, it could well give the climbers a helping hand towards victory if they attack there, especially on the last few laps when their rivals are becoming tired.

In years gone by, Dutch riders have found this race very much to their liking: Susanne Ljungskog, the only Swedish winner, won the first edition and American Kori Seehafer won in 2008 while Dutch riders Chantal Beltman, Marianne Vos, Kirsten Wild, Annemiek van Vleuten and Iris Slappendel won in 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 respectively. With both Vos and van Vleuten riding for Rabobank-Liv/Giant this year, it's tempting to bet on a Dutch winner for 2013 too - but they'll face strong competition from Specialized-Lululemon and almost certainly Orica-AIS, who might choose to send the lighting-fast and supremely strong all-rounder Emma Johansson in order to give the home fans another Swedish victory.

At the time of writing, only two teams have confirmed their full rosters - Specialized-Lululemon are sending Lise Brennauer, Loren Rowney, Carmen Small, Ellen van Dijk, Tayler Wiles and Trixi Worrack; the Swedish National Team is sending Emma Ahlstrand, Tilina Levin, Sara Olsson, Malin Rydland, Beata Sandstrom and Malin Wallin. From the teams with incomplete rosters, Lucinda Brand is joining Vos and van Vleuten for Rabobank; Esra Tromp has confirmed for Argos-Shimano and Emilia Fahlin will be riding for Hitec Products-UCK. More details to be announced - Women Cycling Fever is regularly updated, making it the best choice for accurate information.

Sunday 28 July 2013

Women's Cycling News 28.07-04.08.2013

UCI races this week -  Majerus wins Sparkassen - Tour de l'Ardeche: if you build it, they will come - Women's "Tour of Britain" confirmed for 2014 - English Op de Troon on the way - Making the human cost real to save cyclists' lives - Shorts - Interesting Links - more to come...

UCI Elite Women's race this week: Sparkassen Giro (28.07); Erondegemse Pijl/Erpe Mere (03.08); Route de France (03-10.08).

Majerus wins Sparkassen
Christine Majerus
Race preview
Last year, the Sparkassen Giro was denied its usual UCI status as a result of clashing with the Olympics; this year, having been returned to 1.1 classification, it attracted 21 top teams and 110 riders, including some of the top names in the world, and thousands upon thousands of spectators (the highest estimates claim 100,000) - some of them, attracted by the festival that takes place around the races, won't have arrived as cycling fans, but with the sheer quality of the competition at least a few of them will have gone home thinking they might quite like to see a few more bike races in the future.

Hitec Products-UCK attacked hard and virtually without pause right from the start, and when the team's two star sprinters Emilie Moberg and Chloe Hosking rounded the final bend working closely together it looked a done deal that one of them was going to take the honours. However, at that point Wiggle-Honda's Charlotte Becker launched a furious attack of her own and, suddenly, the race took on an entirely different character with numerous very fast riders fighting hard as the finish line drew near.

In the end, Christine Majerus (Sengers) was fastest, with her team mater Maaike Polspoel right behind her for second place - beating Argos-Shimano's superhero sprint specialist Kirsten Wild into an unaccustomed third.

Majerus, who came second behind Adrie Visser at Sparkassen in 2011, is currently Luxembourgian National Champion in cyclo cross, individiual time trial and road race as well as Small States of Europe Champion in individual time trial, road race and mountain biking.

Top Ten
1 Christine MAJERUS (Sengers) 1h49'09"
2 Maaike POLSPOEL (Sengers) ST
3 Kirsten WILD (Argos-Shimano) ST
4 Sigrid JOCHEMS (Water, Land & Dijken) ST
6 Lauren KITCHEN (Wiggle-Honda) ST
7 Chloe HOSKING (Hitec Products-UCK) ST
8 Daniela GASS (Squadra Scappatella) ST
9 Kaat HANNES (Belgium NT) ST
10 Emily COLLINS (Wiggle-Honda) ST
Full result

Tour de l'Ardeche - if you build it, they will come
The UCI - well, Pat McQuaid, at any rate - says that women's cycling "isn't developed enough" to warrant the kind of financial investment enjoyed by men's cycling, which is why so many women's races operate on budgets so low that the term "shoestring" doesn't even begin to describe the situation. It's really no wonder that mistakes are sometimes made (the peloton being given wrong directions during a race is virtually unheard of in men's cycling, but it happens all too often in women's race), nor that so many organising committees become disillusioned and throw in the towel, canceling their race, after a few years of fighting for every Euro they can get.

The Tour Cycliste Feminin International de l'Ardeche, though, is backed by a number of impressive organisations including the Conseil Generale of the Ardeche region, Credit Mutuel, La Tribune and others; as a result, it's exceptionally well organised, offers prizes that are actually worth winning and takes place on a superbly-planned parcours - and this year, it received applications to race from no fewer than 29 teams. That's so many that, for what may be the first time in the history of women's cycling, organisers will actually have to turn some of them down.

McQuaid looks almost certain to lose his presidential post on the 27th of September, when the UCI will meet in Florence and vote whether to keep him or replace him with British challenger Brian Cookson who, as a supporter of women's cycling, will hopefully understand that the sport needs investment in order to grow rather than needs to grow before it deserves investment.

Cookson confirms Women's "Tour of Britain"
There were rumours several months ago, but now we have concrete facts: there will be a Women's "Tour of Britain" in May 2014 - though it'll be called the Women's Tour, because British Cycling own the trademark "Tour of Britain" - and some preliminary details have been made available.

Brian Cookson, current president of British Cycling, wrote on his blog:

"I'm pleased to be able to confirm that there will now be a five-day international stage race for women in Britain in 2014. The event will be separate from the men's race, but it will be promoted to a high standard and will, I'm sure, be the first step in having a full equivalent Tour of Britain as it develops.

Having an international field competing in a stage race in my home country will provide a template for the kind of changes I will develop on the international stage if I'm successful in my bid to become UCI President in September. We know women's racing can be every bit as attractive to broadcasters, fans and sponsors as men's racing, we just need the governing body to step in, take it seriously and nurture it."

Guy Elliot, speaking for organisers SweetSpot, says that the five-day race will concentrate for its first year on East Anglia and the Midlands, but that it will grow to become a true tour of Britain in the future. The reasons for the decision to remain in a limited area for the time being are threefold:  East Anglia and the Midlands have a limited number of races at present; those that do take place in both areas - especially in the case of women's events such as the Johnson HealthTech GP - have proved highly popular and it's thought best to start with a fairly flat parcours before moving into mountainous terrain when the race is more established.

Crucial to the future of the race, SweetSpot have secured TV coverage, though they're not yet revealing which channel (ITV4 seems most likely) and it's not clear if race footage - which would take up half of each one-hour show, with the remainder focusing on the riders - would be recorded highlights or live.

English Op de Troon on the way
English-speaking fans eagerly await
Vos' book Op de Troon
Those of us whose Dutch is limited to a few cycling terms have been eagerly awaiting the English translation of Marianne Vos' book Op de Troon - which the world's greatest cyclist stresses is not an autobiography, because she says she's too young to write an autobiography yet.

The exact publication date hasn't yet been revealed, but Marianne's brother Anton (whom you really should follow on Twitter because his race photography is among the finest in women's cycling - and he's a very pleasant and friendly chap too) informs Les Deesses that it's "only a few weeks away" and promises to alert me as soon as it's available. Watch this space for more details.

Making the human cost real
Vulpine, the cycling clothing company that has already become known for some of the most stylish gear on the market, has begun a project that aims to "humanise" cyclists.

Many cyclists have noticed that a minority of drivers seem unable to connect the bikes they see being ridden on the road with human beings. It's common to hear cyclists described in terms that suggest they're a mere irritation, a nuisance that gets in the way of human activity - Nick Hussey, creator of Vulpine, reasons that if those drivers are made aware that the bikes they see on the roads are being ridden by people who have families and loved ones, they might then show a little more consideration towards them. How to do it? Nick's asking you to send photographs of the people (or pets) that would miss you if you were killed in a traffic accident.

"An extra bit of impatience or a decision to overtake or turn, made too fast, could create a mourning family. Cyclists are the most fragile and vulnerable road users. I hope we can make that more real. It won't be made for cyclists. It'll be made for the wider public," says Nick. "Your images will only be used to highlight the problems above. We won't brand any completed work with our logo etc, that would be crass. It's not a Vulpine campaign, but a personal one, where we can use the Vulpine platform and following to get the message out."

Read more and contribute photos here.

Pajon with her Olympic medal
Mariana Pajón is World BMX TT Champion
Mariana Pajón, the Colombian BMX rider who won the gold medal in the Women's BMX event at the 2012 Olympics, won her second World BMX Time Trial Championship in Auckland, New Zealand on Saturday, 27th July.
King's postbox will remain gold forever
Dani King is probably getting used to being at the centre of historic events by now, but she probably never expected this one to go on her palmares: the Royal Mail has announced that "her" postbox, situated in her home village Hamble in Hampshire and one of many around the country painted gold to commemorate athletes born nearby, will be one of two that will stay gold forever rather than being repainted in red. The other is Lymington, birthplace of sailor Ben Aislie. This is the first time that the Royal Mail has ever permanently changed the colour of any postbox to mark a historic event; why they picked those commemorating Dani and Ben's achievements has not been stated.

Interesting Links
United Kingdom
Helen Wyman solos to women's Sheffield Grand Prix win (British Cycling)
Sarah & Dan's Women's Cycling Podcast (Warning: Almost guaranteed to contain swearing!) - (Unofficial, Unsanctioned Women's UCI Cycling Blog)
Preview: National Women's Road Series - Ryedale Grand Prix (British Cycling)
UCI presidential candidate Cookson backs return for women's Tour (The Independent)
Superfit cyclist aims to become fastest women to go round the world on a bike (Get Reading)
Famous Last Words: Lauren Kitchen (Cycling Weekly)
Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme says a women’s parallel event is ‘impossible’ (Daily Telegraph)

Saturday 20 July 2013

Women's Cycling News 21-28.07.2013

UCI races this week - Thuringen Rundfahrt (Stages 6, 7 & GC) - Tour en Limousin (Stages 1, 2, 3 & GC) - Women's TdF petition nears 70,000 signatures, ASO indicate interest, Harriet Harman MP lends support - Mexican coach investigated after alleged assault on rider - British Circuit Championships to be televised - Daisy Depoorter recovering after crash - Interesting Links - more to come...

UCI Elite Women races this week: Thuringen Rundfahrt (15-21.07); Tour en Limousin (18-21.07); U23 European Road Race Championship (21.07); Sparkassen Giro (28.07).

Thuringen Rundfahrt
(Previous stages here)
(Race preview here)
Stage 6
With all the attempted breakaways in the first few kilometres, it was obvious that many riders have become tired of bunch sprint finishes and were hoping to grab a few General Classification seconds today, but none of them had stuck by the time the race arrived at the first intermediate sprint where the points went to Lisa Brennauer and Trixi Worrack (both Specialized-Lululemon), then Anna van der Breggen (Sengers): all three had begun the day near enough to the top for the bonification seconds to make a notable difference to their times - though with Brennauer still 1'31" down overall on Emma Johansson, unlikely to be enough to make a notable difference to the outcome of the race now that there's one stage to go.

Scandolara takes the penultimate
Hanka Kupfernagel attacked whilst climbing the Steilen cobbles a short while later but her rivals, well aware that the German rider's cyclo cross skills would give her an advantage on the rough terrain, were not going to let her get away and marked her closely. Emilia Fahlin (Hitec Products-UCK) and Worrack then briefly managed to escape, but Orica-AIS got on the case and brought them back almost immediately.

Worrack's presence in the short-lived break may have been nothing more than a Lululemon ploy, however, because with the pack's attention diverted and Orica settling back into place, her team mate Tayler Wiles got away and found an advantage on the road of a whole minute - much to the delight of fans, who sang "Happy Birthday to You" as she passed them (Wiles is 24 today)! She remained in front at the top of the next categorised climb where Christine Majerus (Sengers) was second and Johansson again third, then managed to stay a handful seconds away through the next intermediate sprint (Romy Kasper of Boels-Dolmans was second, Johansson third) before the pack finally caught her.

Roxane Knetemann (Rabo) attacked soon afterwards and won the final intermediate sprint where Kasper and Johansson were again second and third, but with the finish line approaching the peloton wasn't going to let her stay away even though, having started the day in 12th place with a deficit of at least two minutes to anyone with a realistic chance of challenging for overall victory, her chances of gaining any significant advances seemed slight so late in the race. Valentina Scandolara (MCipollini-Giordana) had started the day in 17th place, 7'11" down the GC, and has no chance of troubling Johansson - but if you can't get on the podium, you may as well salvage some glory in the shape of a stage win. So, she took advantage of the work Knetemann had done and launched her own attack once the Dutch rider was caught, and proved herself stronger than the riders who chased after her, winning alone with an advantage of 10".

In the hubbub of Scandolara's attack, Annemiek van Vleuten (Rabo) crashed but is reportedly fine to start tomorrow. Johansson, caught up behind her, was delayed as a result; however, as the crash had occurred on the descent in the final 3km she did not lose time and now leads overall by 32".

Stage 6 Top Ten
1 Valentina SCANDOLARA (MCipollini-Giordana) 2h45'45"
2 Lucinda BRAND (Rabo-Liv/Giant) +10"
3 Adrie VISSER (Boels-Dolmans) ST
4 Elke GEBHARDT (Germany NT) ST
5 Emily COLLINS (Wiggle-Honda) ST
6 Tatiana GUDERZO (MCipollini-Giordana) ST
7 Beate ZANNER (Germany NT) ST
8 Linda VILLUMSEN (Wiggle-Honda) ST
9 Amy CURE (Australia NT) ST
10 Lisa BRENNAUER (Specialized-Lululemon) ST
Full stage result and General Classification

Stage 7
Emma Johansson wins overall
If there was one feature of the Stage 7 parcours that was certain to play a big part in the race, it was the Hankaberg - a cruelly-steep climb  named after local star Hanka Kupfernagel (it used to be called Dörtendorferberg) who was, of course, in the race this year. Several attempts to get away from the pack before the first ascent came to nothing, then Valentina Scandolara (MCipollini-Giordana) and Roxane Knetemann (Rabo-Liv/Giant) made good use of the gradient, which reaches a 16% gradient, breaking away from the bunch. BePink's Doris Schweizer was the only rider able to bridge and the trio got a minute and a half in front, staying away all the way until the third lap.

With the break caught, numerous riders began attacking. Liesbet de Vocht (Rabo) managed to put 17" between herself and the pack but was caught soon afterwards and Anna van der Breggen (Sengers) led the last time the race reached Hankaberg, but she tired on the climb and Tatiana Guderzo (MCipollini-Giordana) got the better of her, reaching the summit first; when the Italian showed no sign of slowing down a chase group made up of potential stage winners accompanied by bunch sprint lieutenants formed - Amy Cure and Grace Sulzberger (both Australia NT),  Lucinda Brand and Knetemann (Rabo), Lizzie Armitstead and Jessie Daams (Boels-Dolmans) and Emma Johansson and Shara Gillow (both Orica-AIS) along with Bigla's Andrea Graus and BePink's Georgia Williams.

Although none of them now stood any realistic chance of knocking Johansson from the top perch in the General Classification, the Swedish rider made sure she was near the front of the group just in case matters needed to be taken in hand but played it safe, making sure she'd cross the line rather than risking everything with a last minute battle for stage victory. Guderzo thus took the stage, remaining 18" ahead, with Brennauer and van der Breggen second and third. Johansson was tenth, taking the same time as the runners-up; her overall advantage at the end of the race remained 32".

Stage 7 Top Ten
1 Tatiana GUDERZO (MCipollini-Giordana) 2h51'11"
2 Lisa BRENNAUER (Specialized-Lululemon) ST
3 Anna VAN DER BREGGEN (Sengers) ST
4 Amy CURE (Australia NT) ST
5 Elizabeth ARMITSTEAD (Boels-Dolmans) ST
6 Lucinda BRAND (Rabo-Liv/Giant) ST
7 Linda VILLUMSEN (Wiggle-Honda) ST
8 Shara GILLOW (Orica-AIS) ST
9 Georgia WILLIAMS (BePink) ST
10 Emma JOHANSSON (Orica-AIS) ST

Final General Classification Top Ten
1 Emma JOHANSSON (Orica-AIS) 17h07'57"
2 Shara GILLOW (Orica-AIS) +32"
3 Lisa BRENNAUER (Specialized-Lululemon) +01'23"
4 Anna VAN DER BREGGEN (Sengers) +01'31"
5 Linda VILLUMSEN (Wiggle-Honda) +01'36"
6 Amanda SPRATT (Orica-AIS) +02'23"
7 Lucinda BRAND (Rabo-Liv/Giant) +02'43"
8 Georgia WILLIAMS (BePink) +02'48"
9 Hanka KUPFERNAGEL (Germany NT) +02'58"
10 Roxane KNETEMANN (Rabo-Liv/Giant) +03'36"
Points: 1 Emma JOHANSSON (Orica-AIS) 53pts; 2 Valentina Scandolara (MCipollini-Giordana) 24 pts; 3 Annemiek van Vleuten (Rabo-Liv/Giant) 23pts. Mountains: Christine Majerus (Sengers) 40pts; Roxane Knetemann (Rabo-Liv/Giant) 26 pts; Valentina Scandolara (MCipollini-Giordana) 15 pts. Youth: 1 Anna van der Breggen (Sengers) 17h09'28"; Lucinda Brand (Rabo-Liv/Giant) +01'12"; Georgia Williams (BePink) +01'17". Combativity: Linda Villumsen (Wiggle-Honda).
Full stage and General Classification results

Tour Feminin en Limousin
(Race preview here)
Unfortunately, it seems the organisers don't want us to have an easy time of following this one, which is a pity because it looks like being an excellent race - there are no updates on the official site nor, it seems, anywhere else, and it took until Stage 4 for results to appear on the UCI website. How do organisers expect fans to be fans of their races if they're not going to put the information out there? Such is the great Unanswered Question of Women's Cycling.

Stage 1 Top Ten
1 Oxana KOZONCHUK (RusVelo) 3h29'20"
2 Svetlana STOLBOVA (Pratomagno) ST
3 Katarzyna PAWLOWSKA (GSD Gestion-Kallisto) +01"
4 Natalia BOYARSKAYA (Russia NT) +03"
5 Irina MOLICHEVA (Pratomagno) ST
6 Claire THOMAS  (GSD Gestion-Kallisto) ST
7 Sara MUSTONEN (Faren-Let's Go Finland) ST
8 Sophie DE BOER (Parkhotel Valkenburg) ST
9 Jennifer FIORI (Top Girls-Fassa Bortolo) ST
10 Elana VALENTINI (Top Girls-Fassa Bortolo) ST
Full stage result and General Classification

Stage 2 Top Ten
1 Tatiana ANTOSHINA (MCipollini-Giordana) 26'15"
2 Katarzyna PAWLOWSKA (GSD Gestion-Kallisto) +25"
3 Edwige PITEL (S.C. Michela Fanini-Rox) +41"
4 Natalia BOYARSKAYA (Russia NT) +46"
5 Karol-Ann CANUEL (Vienne Futuroscope) +01'11"
6 Belen LOPEZ (Lointek) +01'21"
7 Lucy COLDWELL (Breast Cancer Care) +01'22"
8 Elena KUCHINSKAYA (RusVelo) +01'25"
9 Svetlana STOLBOVA (Pratomagno) +01'27"
10 Oxana KOZONCHUK (RusVelo) +01'34"
Full stage result and General Classification

Stage 3 Top Ten
1 Katarzyna PAWLOWSKA (GSD Gestion-Kallisto) 3h31'30"
2 Oxana KOZONCHUK (RusVelo) ST
3 Karol-Ann CANUEL (Vienne Futuroscope) ST
4 Svetlana STOLBOVA (Russia NT) ST
5 Alexis RYAN (USA NT) ST
6 Elena BERLATO (Top Girls-Fassa Bortolo) ST
7 Belen LOPEZ (Lointek) ST
8 Jennifer FIORI (Top Girls-Fassa Bortolo) ST
9 Edwige PITEL (S.C. Michela Fanini-ROX) +04"
10 Tatiana ANTOSHINA (Russia NT) ST
Full stage result and General Classification

General Classification Top Ten
1 Katarzyna PAWLOWSKA (GSD Gestion-Kallisto) 7h27'11"
2 Tatiana ANTOSHINA (Russia NT) +01"
3 Edwige PITEL (S.C. Michela Fanini-ROX) +42"
4 Oxana KOZONCHUK (RusVelo) +01'02"
5 Karol-Ann CANUEL (Vienne Futuroscope) +01'04"
6 Svetlana STOLBOVA (Russia NT) +01'06"
7 Belen LOPEZ (Lointek) +01'18"
8 Lucy COLDWELL (Breast Cancer Care) +01'39"
9 Elena BERLATO (Top Girls-Fassa Bortolo) +01'41"
10 Aizhan ZHAPAROVA (RusVelo) ST
Full GC result

Original, large-scale (and printable) poster here
Women's TDF petition nears 70,000 signatures
Some people say that there simply isn't enough interest in women's cycling for the sport to ever match men's cycling in popularity. The petition started by Kathryn Bertine, Emma Pooley, Marianne Vos and Chrissie Wellington asking the Amaury Sport Organisation to add a women's race to the Tour de France proves that those people are wrong - a little over a week since it was launched, almost 65,000 people have signed.

The petition is now aiming for 75,000 signatures and looks entirely capable of reaching that figure - or, perhaps, topping it. If you haven't already done so, add your support here.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that Tour organisers the ASO are showing interest - in contrast to reports elsewhere last week that suggested otherwise. For more, see Cycling News.

Harriet Harman MP lends support
French politicians have involved themselves in cycling many times during the sport's history; their British counterparts tend not to do so - but Harriet Harman, British Labour MP and Shadow Deputy Prime minister and Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, joined the discussion when she wrote to Tour director Christian Prudhomme. Her letter, which displays an understanding of some of the issues facing women's cycling, has been made available through a party press release:

"Dear Christian

I am writing to call on you to hold a women's race alongside the Grand Départ of the Tour de France in 2014.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour, former world champion and Olympic silver medallist Emma Pooley called for a women's Tour de France to be reinstated. She has since signed a petition on the subject, along with female cycling champions Kathryn Bertine and Marianne Vos, triathlon world champion Chrissie Wellington, and tens of thousands of others.

This highlights the divide between men's and women's cycling. Britain's women won 5 medals at London 2012 (compared to 7 for the men). Britain has some of the best women cyclists in the world - but for years they had to compete for foreign teams as there was no investment in an elite women's team.

In her retirement statement, former world champion and Olympic gold medallist Nicole Cooke wrote of how women's road racing had 'crumbled' since 2002 including the loss of the women's Tour de France.

Overall, women's sport misses out compared to men's sport: women's sport only receives 0.5% of total sports sponsorship in the UK and only 4% of sports coverage in national and local newspapers is dedicated to women's sport.

The Grand Départ being held in Yorkshire and from Cambridge to London in 2014 presents a great opportunity to hold a women's event and set an example to the rest of Europe and Le Tour. After the success of the Olympics, women's cycling should not be allowed to slip back into the shadows.

I support the call for a women's Tour de France and call on you to organise a women's race alongside the Grand Départ.

I have also sent copies of this letter to British Cycling, UK Sport, Leeds City Council, Cambridge City Council, and Cambridgeshire County Council.

Yours sincerely,

Harriet Harman MP"

Interesting Women's TdF Links
Britain’s female cyclists can conquer the Alps too (The Independent)
Emma Pooley: "A women's TdF would not harm anybody" (Cycling Weekly)

Mexican coach investigated following alleged assault
Arturo Meneses, the Mexican coach who allegedly physically assaulted rider Erika Varela at the Mexican Road Race Championships, is the subject of an investigation into the incident being carried out by the country's Commission of Physical Culture and Sports (CONADE), according to ESPN.

Cycling fan Gustavo Garcia says that he went to see what was going on after hearing shouting and saw Meneses attack Varela during an argument. He then took a series of photographs that appear to show a struggle, followed by the coach pushing the rider over and pulling her roughly back upright.

Erika Varela
Days later, reports claimed Varela had denied any assault had taken place: "What the pictures really show is him trying to get me to stand when I didn't want to. To clarify, he did not at any time hit me or anything like that - it was just an argument when we were both angry. Arturo and I remain friends; it was just an angry row - the rest is just gossip and people misinterpreting the pictures," says a piece published by

Yet the following day, in a report published by PeriodicoAM under the title "Confirma Erika Varela pleito,"  ("Erika Varela confirms lawsuit"),Meneses gave a rather different account: "The situation is this: Erika has asthma and she'd ridden like a wild horse early in the race. Then, she fainted - when it looks as though I was throwing her in the photo, I was actually holding her up."

PeriodicoAM says that it contacted another rider, who wanted to remain anonymous, and was told: "I remember him well. Whenever things didn't go well [in a race], he became disrespectful and swore. He's a despot."

Jesús Mena, CONADE director, said "It is vital that CONADE fully investigates this accusation, and that what took place is fully understood. The world of sport must practice and promote the values of respect towards everyone equally."

British National Circuit Race Champs to be televised
For the first time this year, highlights of the British National Circuit Race Championships will be televised on ITV4. It's not clear if this will include the women's races, but as ITV4 have shown at least some coverage of the Johnson HealthTech GP, it seems likely that we'll get at least something.

Daisy Depoorter recovering
Daisy Depoorter, the CycleLive Plus-Zannata rider who suffered serious injuries when she was hit by a car during a training ride before Stage 3 at the Thuringen Rundfahrt last week, has been keeping fans updated on her recovery via Twitter...

Daisy Depoorter ‏@DaisyDep
After 7 days in the hospital in Jena I have finally green light for friday 26/07 to go back to Belgium. I will stay in AZ Damiaan in Ostend.

...The first 3 days were for me excruciating pain, vomiting and a collapsed lung. After those 3 hellish days I became every day little stronger...

...And i can move my legs again! #revalidation

Best wishes, Daisy - the ever-increasing number of women's cycling fans around the world are all looking forward to seeing you back in action soon!

Interesting Links
United Kingdom
Preview: 2013 British Cycling National Circuit Race Championships (British Cycling)
Cycling firm hits a milestone (Blackpool Gazette)
It's time for televised women's cycling (Daily Peloton)

Tuesday 16 July 2013

La Route de France 2013

03-10.08.2013 Official Site
France, 7-stage (+ prologue) Road Race, 834.9km
UCI 2.1

The Giro Rosa, which used to be the Giro Donne, is of course the only women's Grand Tour (though this will not be the case for much longer, with a bit of luck and plenty of signatures). However, La Route de France comes close - an eight-day, prologue-and-seven-stages race that covers 834.9km of highly varied French countryside. Held since 2006, except in 2011, it has become the biggest women's race in France since the demise of the Grand Boucle (Tour de France Feminin) in 2009, despite losing a stage this year.

Some fans are not keen on La Route, saying that it's a boring race. To be fair, it does seem a bit of a shame that it misses out so much of the spectacular scenery seen a few weeks earlier in the Tour de France and a few high mountain stages would undoubtedly be a welcome addition (in 2012, Stage 7 climbed the Vosges' Planche des Belles Filles), but the flatter part of France between Paris and the Massif Central (which the race tantalisingly glimpses this year) is not without its charms either - and remember that a high-speed bunch sprint to the line can be a very thrilling sight. Whatever happens, right now the Route is the nearest thing we have to a women's Tour de France, hence the extensive start list; it gives just a little taste of the race we'll have to look forward to if the Amaury Sport Organisation decide to listen to demands that they add a women's race to the greatest sporting event the world has ever seen (which, incidentally, you can help persuade them do by signing this petition).

Previous winners
2006 Linda Villumsen (racing for Wiggle-Honda this year)
2007 Amber Neben
2008 Luise Keller
2009 Kimberly Anderson
2010 Annemiek van Vleuten
2012 Evelyn Stevens (racing for the USA NT this year)

Prologue (03.08.2013, Soissons, 3.8km ITT)

View Route de France Prologue in a larger map

Soissons, the start town of Stage 4 last year, is the location of this year's Prologue, a 3.8km individual time trial taking place on wide streets and boulevards. The smooth road surfaces and non-technical nature of the parcours, with no tight corners, will allow all riders to record good times and the time trial specialists may even set some records.

Stage 1 (04.08.2013, Soissons-Enghien Les Bains, 121.9km)

View Route de France Stage 1 in a larger map

One for the rouleurs, this. Or at least, until the race reaches Enghien Les Bains in the Île-de-France, on the northern outskirts of Paris, because from that point on the parcours changes character dramatically - gone are the long, straight roads through the countryside where a small group of fast riders can work together, choreographing themselves so as to gain time, to be replaced by a tight urban route with several sharp corners. Then, near the end, they enter a criterium-style circuit around the Lac d'Enghien. What happens in the four laps around it could very easily end any advantage riders found earlier.

Stage 2 (05.08.2013, Enghien Les Bains-Mantes La Jolie, 89.3km)

View Route de France Stage 2 in a larger map

Setting out from the north-western suburbs of Paris, Stage 3 carries the race away through the gently rolling countryside of the Ile-de-France to Mantes La Jolie, some way west of the capital. It's prime territory for the domestiques to join breakways, picking up a few seconds (and the gratitude of their sponsors) while the team leaders are sizing one another up and saving their legs for stages still to come.

Stage 3 (06.08.2013, Anet-Mamers, 123.6km)

View Untitled in a larger map

The main issue facing the riders on the long 113.5km route to Mamers is likely to be punctures - though relatively undemanding, the parcours carries the race through some thick forest where, at this time of year when conditions are dry, even the slightest breeze can snap off thorny twigs and leave them on the road. If the wind has been strong at any point in the week or so prior to the race, expect wheel changes aplenty.

Once Mamers is reached and the riders enter the finishing circuit around which they will complete two laps, things change completely just as was the case in Stage 1 - the circuit features a series of very tight corners, road furniture, slippery road markings and an assortment of other potential hazards. This makes it look promising for those riders who have lots of urban criterium racing experience as they'll be able to take the corners at speed and identify hazards in the split second that is all they get on this sort of parcours, but it's entirely possible that a breakaway might have found a huge advantage on the main route and arrived at the circuit with enough time in the bag to take Mamer's streets at a leisurely, safe pace and still win.

Stage 4 (07.08.2013, Cloyes Sur Le Loire-Briare, 140km)

View Route de France Stage 4 in a larger map

The longest stage of the 2013 edition, Stage 4 appears to be a transitional stage with little purpose other than to get the riders from one part of the race to another - but might well turn out to be an interesting route because, with all those long, straight sections, those squads that have spent a long time practicing their team trial technique could treat it as just that: a very long team time trial in which they can get their heads down, take turns at the front and gain some serious time advantages over riders in teams that aren't so well-drilled in races against the clock.

All of the towns and villages along the route have something to offer. The most notable to English speakers is Beaugency, where the Devil helped to build the bridge over the Loire in the local version of the well known "the Devil builds a bridge in return for the first soul to cross it" story, as recounted by James Joyce. As is always the case in the story, the first soul to cross belonged to a cat; cats' souls apparently having less value to the Devil than human ones. In addition to the bridge, the town has a spectacular ruined castle and an abbey church.

Stage 5 (08.08.2013, St Fargeau-Pougues Le Eaux, 98.7km)

View Route de France 2013 Stage 5 in a larger map

Saint-Fargeau, with its typically Burgundian clocktower, hosts the start of a stage that quickly takes the race into thick forest, where a badly-timed puncture could leave a rider who started the day full of promise with a big time disadvantage to make up.

Most of the route is fairly flat, but there is a considerable climb over the 5km leading into Alligny-Cosne and, once through the town, a steep descent over the next 2.5km en route to Donzy, an attractive medieval town and the birthplace of professional cyclists Henri Prevost (who rode the Tour de France in 1929 and 1930) and Yves Hezard, who enjoyed many successes through the 1970s and later became directeur sportif of Bernard Hinault's La Vie Claire team: while the route up favours the climbers, the descent is sufficiently steep for heavier riders to gain a lead on the way down. With the exception of a brief climb before Pougues-les-Eaux, the rest of the parcours is gently rolling. It ends with two laps of a 13.4km circuit that shouldn't give the riders problems, though two sharp corners (D267/D8) and D8/D907) might claim a few victims if it rains.

Stage 6 (09.08.2013, Pougues Le Eaux-Vichy, 127.4km)

View Route de France 2013 Stage 6 in a larger map

The volcanoes of the Massif Central are long extinct, but great forces underground stil generate heat - hence the large numbers of spa towns in the regions around the mountains. Once a popular example, Pougues-les-Eaux fell on hard times in the 1970s when tourists stopped coming to take the waters - which were bottled and sold for a few more years, until they fell out of popularity too. Nowadays, the town survives largely as a tourist base, a place where visitors can base themselves and make excursions out to surrounding areas. One destination is Bourbon l'Archambault, the next town on the parcours, where the spa is still active. Vichy, at the far end of the stage, is also a spa; however, it is better known for having been the capital of Vichy France - the part of the country not occupied by the Nazis - from 1940 to 1944. During that time, France ceased to be a republic under the government of Nazi collaborator Philippe Pétain.

Starting off flat, the parcours becomes steadily more rolling as the race nears the mountains; expect plenty of attacks and breaks early on in the race when the riders who don't have much chance of winning try to get some bonus seconds and sponsor-pleasing time in the spotlight before those that do take over towards the end.

Stage 7 (10.08.2013, Cusset-Chauffailles, 130.2km)

View Route de France 2013 Stage 7 in a larger map

With Stage 7 ending so near to the Beaujolais mountains, which are themselves the foothills of the Massif Central, it would have been a pity if the riders didn't have any climbs ahead of them today - so the organisers have seen to it that the parcours takes in the most serious climb of the race so far, the Col de Dun. Topping out just short of 1000m above sea level, the Col has some steep sections but the primary factor the riders will have to deal with is the narrowness of the road up - anyone who finds themself stuck in the peloton will have great difficulty in getting to the front of the pack in order to chase any climbers that manage to get away. Secondly, much of the climb runs through thick forest; if a rider punctures here she'll have problems getting back into position - especially if the narrow road hampers the team car's efforts to reach her.

There's plenty to see along the route. Montaiget-en-Forez has an impressive medieval city gate while Marcigny is famous for its La Tour du Moulin, a remarkably well-preserved 15th Century fortification that was later converted into a watermill - it now contains a museum. La Clayette's chateau is the star of many a jigsaw; Chauffailles is a larger town but its chateau is smaller and far less grand.

The official start list is here. As usual in women's cycling, the list of riders who actually start the race may be quite different; Women Cycling Fever keeps a regularly-updated list.

How to follow the race
The race has an official Twitter account with updates on what's happening with the organisation throughout the year and information during the event.