France, 6-stage Road Race, 496.3km
First held in 1997, when it was won by Jeannie Longo (who was then 39 and, famously, is still racing today at the age of 54), the Trophée d'Or is now in its 17th edition. Although it has fluctuated between five and six stages, it is unusual among women's cycling races in that it has been held every year since its inauguration - a tribute to the excellent organisational skills of the race committee.
One (possibly unique) feature of the Trophee d'Or is the 18km de l'arrivée prime, awarded to the first rider to reach a point 18km from the finish line. It provides an incentive for riders who might not be in a position to challenge for a stage win to fight for a place near the front of the peloton as the race nears its end, ensuring that competition remains high in the last part of each stage.
Like their Route de France counterparts, organisers of the Trophee d'Or want to keep their race interesting by trying to make sure that the overall outcome remains undecided for as long as possible. The Trophee does this in completely the opposite way to the Route - whereas the Route consisted of a series of flat, straight, relatively featureless stages that kept the peloton rolling along at high speed day after day and prevented anyone getting away (and might well have become ironically boring as a result, had it not been for Giorgia Bronzini's record six consecutive stage wins), the Trophee tries to prevent anyone building up an insurmountable lead by including a wide selection of fast straights, tough climbs, technical sections, steep descents and as many different variations on the final 3km as can be squeezed into six stages. This means that there is plenty of incentive and scope for breakaways, either solo or in groups, but that any rider who gains a big advantage in a break can very easily lose it again; the race therefore stands a good chance of remaining undecided right up until the end, possibly even into the final few kilometres, yet features plenty of interest and action along the way.
The Lithuanian Edita Pučinskaitė and the Swede Emma Johansson (riding this year with Orica-AIS) are the only riders to have won twice, in 2001 and 2004 and in 2008 and 2010 respectively. Longo remains the only French winner; no British rider has ever made it to the podium, but there are some very good British women on the start list this year: Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) and Sharon Laws (Lotto-Belisol) have the potential to challenge overall and Emma Trott (Boels-Dolmans) could aim for a stage win.
|2012 winner Elena Cecchini, pictured
at the Thuringen Rundfahrt
1998 Jolanta Polikevičiūtė
1999 Tracey Gaudry
2000 Leontien van Moorsel
2001 Edita Pučinskaitė
2002 Tatiana Stiajkina
2003 Olivia Gollan
2004 Edita Pučinskaitė
2005 Joane Somarriba
2006 Zulfiya Zabirova
2007 Noemi Cantele
2008 Emma Johansson
2009 Diana Žiliūtė
2010 Emma Johansson
2011 Tatiana Antoshina
2012 Elena Cecchini
Stage 1 (24.08.2013; St Amand Montrond-Graçay, 107.1 km)
View Trophee d'Or Feminin 2013 Stage 1 in a larger map
With numerous small hills and twisty lanes along its 107.1km, Stage 1 looks on paper to encourage breakaways more than any other in this edition. That makes the race interesting right from the very start because, with the big name General Classification contenders wanting to save some energy for the battles to come, it would be entirely possible for a small group of domestiques and riders who usually couldn't challenge for an overall win to grab an advantage that, provided they can keep up a decent pace and avoid accidents over the next few days, could see them achieve a very good final placing - and, perhaps, even stand on the podium after Stage 6.
GPM points are on offer four times during the stage. The first are at the Category 3 Cote des Billons, 19.3km into the parcours; it ascends (asc.) 38m in 0.75km (len.) to give an average gradient (ave.) of 5%. The second is the Cote de Diou, 57.2km in and also rated as Category 3 (asc. 30m, len. 0.62km, ave. 4.8%); the third and fourth are at the Cote de Prinçay, climbed at 90km and then again at 103.7km (asc. 36m, len. 0.62km, ave. 5.8%). Although Prinçay sounds little more difficult that Diou, it reaches a maximum gradient for a short stretch of 12% and as such is rated at Category 2, making it a difficult obstacle even if it were climbed only once - with the second ascent coming just 6.7km before the end of the race it may, therefore, prove to have a decisive effect on the outcome of the stage. The final 3km descends gradually (though there's a very brief and small rise at 1.1km to go); if riders approach the finish as a group, this should encourage a fast sprint to the line.
Stage 2 (25.08.2013; Mehun sur Yèvre ITT, 17.7km)
View Trophee d'Or Feminin 2013 Stage 2 in a larger map
Throughout cycling history, there have been several climbers who could also time trial. Stage 1 wasn't even remotely mountainous, but the combined effect of all those little hills and the four GPM climbs served to give the climbers and more grimpeur-orientated all-rounders an advantage that they could then have preserved (if not extended) on Stage 2 - if, that is, it wasn't as long as it is: no other type of rider can keep up sufficient wattage over 17.7km to be able to rival the time trial specialists, meaning that nobody who gained a lead yesterday is guaranteed to keep it today.
Stage 3 (25.08.2013; La Chapelle St Ursin-La Chapelle St Ursin, 78.3km)
View Trophee d'Or Feminin 2013 Stage 3 in a larger map
Taking place after the Stage 2 Time Trial, Stage 3 consists of three laps around a fast 26.1km circuit - which makes this an ideal parcours for spectators as it offers an opportunity to see the peloton go by three times, or even to move around and see it from different places.
Long, exposed stretches make breakaways difficult, especially if it's windy - but with three lots of GPM points on the Cote de la Madeleine and bonification seconds at the intermediate sprint two-thirds of the way to the end, any break that does manage to get away could reap handsome rewards. Whether that can happen has to remain to be seen, as does whether or not such a break could remain out in front over the final lap and avoid being swept up by the pack once the General Classification riders building up to the bunch sprint that seems the inevitable conclusion.
Cote de la Madeleine is climbed at 12.1km, 38.2km and 64.3km. It gains 25m in 0.55km, giving an average gradient of 4.5%, and is rated as Category 3. The intermediate sprint is contested at the second passage of the finish line, 52.2km from the start. There is a small descent between 3km and 2km before the finish line, then a gradual climb of around 20m over the last 2km, an average gradient of only 1%.
Stage 4 (26.08.2013; Cosne Cours Sur Loire-Cosne Cours Sur Loire, 99.4km)
View Trophee d'Or 2013 Stage 4 in a larger map
With the first circuit (depicted in blue on the map) and the first 15km or so of the second running through open countryside with few hedgerows, riders may again experience strong crosswinds during this stage. There are also a number of difficult corners along all the circuits, putting bike-handling skills to the test. That makes the first 35km ideal ground for the rouleurs, big, strong riders who can fight their way to the front and then get out in front. However, tthe organisers say this stage has been named Montagne and although the highest point (Cote de Bue) topping out at a little under 400m means it's not exactly alpine, but five categorised climbs (including three Category 1 ascents, once of them with a maximum gradient of 20%) and a good selection of smaller, uncategorised hills suggests that once the race gets into the hilly section, the heavier riders will start to suffer. So the best tactics would seem to be to get your team's best climber surrounded by a posse of bigger, tougher rouleurs who can then make sure she gets to the categorised climbs in good shape and at the front of the pack. Then, you let her go and do her stuff and with a bit of luck the GPM points - and maybe even a stage victory, if she finds a sufficiently large enough advantage for it not to be chipped away in the local circuit that finishes the stage - come pouring in.
Failing that, you want to get your sprinters and their lead-outs into a break shortly before or soon after the beginning of the local circuit, once they've had chance to recover a bit from the climbs (hmm - can anyone else see why this could be an excellent stage for a rider like Lotto-Belisol's Ashleigh Moolman?) That way, they're well away from the pack and avoiding the congested corners and any crashes that might take place and are in the right place to launch themselves into that last, nearly straight 150m blast to the finish.
Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire looks exactly what it is - a once grand town that has fallen on hard times, in this case due to the demise of its metal-working industry that it had depended on since the 16th Century. However, having been inhabited since prehistoric times, there is much to see and the town forms an ideal base for visitors to the race. The medieval town Sancerre, sitting on an isolated hill 310m above sea level and packed full of centuries-old buildings, is also worth a visit.
The first GPM climb is the Cote du Petit Graveron, located 36.1km from the start; with a total ascent of 96m in 1.6km it has an average gradient of 6.8% but is steeper in parts with a maximum of 8%, being rated at Category 2 as a result. The second is the Cote de Bue at 53km, ascending 105m in 1.6km at an average gradient of 6.9% and a maximum of 8%; it is rated Category 2. Third is the 1st Category Cote du Graveron at 59.1km, rising 150m in 2.3km with an average gradient of 6.5% and one section reaching a harsh 15%. Fourth is the even more brutal Category 1 Cote des Perrieres 63.2km into the parcours; ascending 64m in 0.6km gives a difficult average gradient of 10.7% - but it's much worse than that, because the maximum is 20%. The fifth and final GPM climb is Category 1 Cote des Remparts, 69.6km from the start; it gains 112m in 1.6km at an average gradient of 7%. Note also a small hill that rises around 30m between the three and two kilometres to go points - possibly just enough to give a rider able to climb and sprint (such as Moolman again, or Giorgia Bronzini from Wiggle-Honda) an advantage.
Stage 5 (27.08.2013; Baugy-Baugy, 105.7km)
View Trophee d'Or 2013 Stage 4 in a larger map
There is plenty of open countryside again on this stage but, if the riders have been battling the wind over the last couple of days, the forested sections and the shelter they offer will come as a relief - though they may also permit breakaways.
The local circuit may only be 5.5km in length, but with some sharp corners followed by long, fast straights that's plenty enough for breaks to be caught, then for the lead-outs and sprinters to get themselves into position before the final bend and the non-technical 1.1km running along the Rues de la Croix-St-Abdon, du Huit Mai, du Chancelier and Sully, ending at the finish line back where the race began on the Place de Verdun.
The three climbs are far less troublesome than those ridden yesterday, each of them being rated Category 3. Cote de Vizy, located at 71.8km, ascends 40m in 2km at an unchallenging average gradient of 2%. The latter two have steep sections, but overall are of sufficiently low average gradient to be given their low categorisation. The Cote de Villequiers, 84km from the start, rises 34m in 0.95km; the average gradient is 3.6% but it reaches 7% at one point. The final GPM climb of the stage is the Cote de Solerieux, 91.6km from the start; it ascends 30m in 0.5km at an average gradient of 6% while the steepest section is 11%. The terrain rises slightly over the course of the final 3km but so gradually that, with the exception of a small low gradient ramp just after 1km to go, the increase is too minor to have any effect.
Stage 6 (28.08.2013; Orval-St Amand Montrond)
View Trophee d'Or 2013 Stage 6 in a larger map
Another stage designed to let spectators see the race go by more than once (and thus a good option if you have the chance to go to see it but can only remain for one day), Stage 6 is roughly in the form of a figure of eight that begins at Orval, heads west and then swings east to take a long route back to Saint-Amand-Montrond, Orval's neighbour on the opposite side of the Loubiere and Cher rivers. It then comes within half a kilometre of the finish line but turns away, traveling north and climbing into forest; soon after emerging it joins the same route taken east earlier with the riders contesting the intermediate sprint, then continues back to Saint-Amand-Montrond again. This time it passes over the finish line to enter a local circuit 6.5km, which will be completed three times.
Today's GPM climbs begin with the Category 2 Cote de Nozieres which, located just 3.6km from the start line and rising 40m in 0.4km (average gradient 10%), gives the climbers a chance to get out in front early on in the race. Doing so might not stand them in good stead, though, because there are more than 30km to the next climb - ample time for any advantage to be taken away again. The second is the Cote de la Tour, also Category 2, which will be climbed at 35km and then again at 63.1km when it'll be the fourth GPM ascent. It rises just 21m but does so in 0.23km, giving it a difficult average gradient of 9%. The third and fifth GPM climbs are the Cote du Fer Cheval which, ascending 70m in 1.6km, has an average gradient of 4.4% (maximum 7.5%) and is rated as a Category 3.
Once GPM points have been awarded for the final time on the second ascent of Cote du Fer a Cheval, it will be climbed three more times, once on each of the three laps around the local circuit; those three ascents going to take their toll and, by the time they near the last 3km, all but the pure climbers are going to be hurting. However, the organisers have cleverly seen to it that the climbers can't rely on the parcours to win them the race: there's a fast descent between 2.5km and 2km to go - something that climbers, who lack the body weight to keep control of their bikes on a steep downhill, tend to dislike. Heavier riders, like sprinters and rouleurs, are less affected; deciding the General Classification may be a formality by this point, but the final stage victory will in all likelihood still be up for grabs.
Provisional and subject to change; Women Cycling Fever is regularly updated.
Marijn de Vries
Anna Zita Maria Stricker
Gu Sung Eun
Lorena Maria Vargas Villamil
Liesbet de Vocht
Pauline Ferrand Prevot
Annemiek van Vleuten
Sofie de Vuyst
Anna van der Breggen
Riders to Watch
Marianne Vos ("meilleure cycliste mondiale depuis 2007," says the official race website - something with which few people would argue) isn't having the best year of her career, but what counts as a bad year for Marianne would be the greatest season of most riders' careers - she is, just as she always is, a favourite for overall victory and very much a rider to watch.
Emma Johansson seems to get stronger and stronger with every year that comes and has emerged as a very powerful rival to Vos, beating her on a number of occasions - with her Orica-AIS squad also able to stand up to the might of Vos' Rabobank-Liv/Giant, she'll be making sure the Dutch star doesn't have an easy time of it as she goes after an unprecedented third victory.
Wiggle-Honda exploded onto the scene at the start of this season and enjoyed a spectacular victory at the Route de France a few weeks before this race, with Linda Villumsen winning overall and Giorgia Bronzini setting a new world record of six consecutive stages (the previous record of five was set, coincidentally, by Jeannie Longo, who won the first edition of this race). Bronzini won three in a row at last year's Trophée (she won four in a row back in 2008, too) and may well be a force with which to be reckoned this year - although Stage 4 suits Lotto-Belisol's Ashleigh Moolman, the last three kilometres suit Bronzini very well indeed.
Finally, we'll probably see a lot of MCipollini-Giordana: the Valentinas Scandolara and Carretta are on excellent form at the moment and have been grabbing GPMs, sprints and podium steps all over the place this season, and Marta Tagliaferro can cut it with the best in a bunch sprint.
How to Follow the Race
Boels-Dolmans mechanic Richie Steege Tweets live from all the races the team enter, providing expert and up-to-the-minute information on the action. Karl Lima's Hitec Products-UCK are not on the start list at the time of writing but, if present at the race, he also provides excellent coverage via Twitter. Journalists Bart Hazen and Anton Vos (Marianne's brother) also Tweet from races. Once the race is over, check Marijn de Vries' blog - Marijn, in addition to racing for Lotto-Belisol, is a professional journalist and her race reviews (even when auto-translated into English) are always excellent with their warts-and-all descriptions of what it's actually like to compete in an Elite Women's race.