It was always going to be a tough race - and with Marianne Vos out of the race, sick, it was only going to get more competitive. So how did the race play out? Find out from the video and below the jump
The official link to that Sporza vid page is here - along with a 7-min video that includes interviews with Liesbet de Vocht, Annemiek van Vleuten & Belgian Champ Evelyn Arys, some nice footage of the race going through Emma Johansson's base at Zwingem, and little interview with Judith Arndt & Kristin Armstrong after the race, in English. They're the little thumbnails on the left-hand side - click through to them, so Sporza can see we love it when they show women's racing!
It was a cold, sunny day as the peloton left Oudenaarde. Fast from the start, the race stayed together through the Paddestraat, over the Berendries and Valkenburg - but when they hit the second set of (flat) cobbles at Haaghoek, it seems the race took off. Reigning champion Annemiek van Vleuten (Rabobank) and team-mate Iris Slappendel had already had bad luck, puncturing on the Paddestraat and having to chase back, and now they and 2007 winner, Nicole Cooke (Faren-Honda) missed the split, and were caught in the second group, which was soon over two minutes back, and effectively out of the race.
The big major group was formed after an attack by Tiffany Cromwell (GreenEdge-AIS), and included all the other big favourites - and from here on it was all attacks - at the Kanarijberg, seven riders were off the front, then four attackers - Rabobank's Liesbet de Vocht, Lizzie Armitstead (AA Drink-Leontien'nl), Carmen Small (Team USA) & Alexis Rhodes (GreenEdge) - and then just before the Oude Kawaremont, there was an attack that changed the race.
Evelyn Stevens (Specialized-lululemon) and Andrea Dvorak (Team USA) attacked and got a little bit space - soon to be joined by Dvorak's team-mate Kristin Armstrong, GreenEdge-AIS' Judith Arndt, and local hero Emma Johansson (Hitec Products-Mistral Homes). Arndt and Armstrong didn't stop when they caught Stevens and Dvorak, but accelerated and attacked, getting a gap of 5 seconds, 10 seconds, and then they were away! The Stevens-Dvorak-Johansson trio chased for a while, but although they made some progress on the front pair, they were soon swept up by the group of 30 riders behind them.
Arndt and Armstrong, on the other hand, kept their lead, working together in a repeat of the 2008 race, where they ended up on the podium in first and second. It looked like maybe the group would catch the front pair too - but if there's one thing both Arndt and Armstrong know how to do, it's time trail home - both are former World ITT Champions, and both were hungry for the win. They worked well together, until the end, when Armstrong attacked at 350m. Arndt had it all under control, however, caught her rival and accelerated to take the win, two seconds ahead of Armstrong - the same 1-2 as 2008!
Canadian star Joëlle Numainville completed the podium, winning the bunch sprint for third, ahead of the cream of Dutch sprinting, Kirsten Wild, Adrie Visser and Ellen van Dijk - with Liesbet de Vocht (Rabobank) leading the second group at 1:52, and more groups at 4:46, 7:04 and 8:56.
1. Judith Arndt (Aus) GreenEdge-AIS, 3:19:05
2. Kristin Armstrong (USA) USA, + 00:02
3. Joëlle Numainville (Can) Canada, + 00:30
4. Kirsten Wild (Ned) AA Drink-Leontien.nl, s.t.
5. Adrie Visser (Ned) Skil-Argos, s.t.
6. Ellen van Dijk (Ned) Specialiazed-lululemon, s.t.
7. Loes Gunnewijk (Ned) GreenEdge-AIS, s.t.
8. Christine Majerus (Lux) GSD Gestion, s.t.
9. Anna van der Breggen (Ned) Sengers, s.t.
10. Alena Amialysik (Blr) Be Pink, s.t.
11. Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (Fra) Rabobank. s.t.
12. Emma Johansson (Swe) Hitec-Mistral), s.t.
13. Carmen McNellis Small (USA) USA, s.t.
14. Maaike Polspoel (Bel) TopSport Vlaanderen, s.t.
15. Tiffany Cromwell (Aus) GreenEdge-AIS, s.t.
16. Hanka Kupfernagel (Ger) RusVelo, s.t.
17. Audrey Cordon (Fra) Vienne Futuroscope, s.t.
18. Tatiana Antoshina (Rus) Rabobank, s.t.
19. Rasa Leleivyte (Ltu) Vaiana-Tepso, s.t.
20. Amelie Rivat (Fra) Vienne Futuroscope, s.t.
TO NOTE! The official results are all wrong - they have Evelyn Arys of Kleo down as 7th - but it was Gunnewijk (Gunnewijk was wearing #41, Arys #141, so that's probably where the mix-up came - but there's a whole ton of evidence that Gunnewijk was in the sprint for 3rd - include her own tweets!)
Armstrong's second place was a surprise, but signals that her intention to compete in the Olympics is very serious indeed. After winning the World ITT title and coming fourth in the road race in 2009, the American took 2010 off to have a baby, and what racing she did last season was on home soil. She had been in an attack in Trofeo Binda, but only finished 22nd - but this was another story.
Spare a thought, though, for the riders caught up in crashes - and for the two big players who weren't able to be there - Marianne Vos through sickness and Martine Bras (Dolmans-Boels) with concussion after crashing in training. Poor Bras found it as hard to follow the race as we did - I really felt for her when she tweeted
Trying to follow
#RVV on twitter and tv. But it hurts, not only the head but also the heart.
So after three rounds of the Road World Cup, the rankings look like this:
EDITED! Now that Gunnewijk's points from today have been added
1. Marianne Vos (Ned) Rabobank, 150 points
2. Judith Arndt (Ger) GreenEdge-AIS, 115
3. Kirsten Wild (Ned) AA Drink-Leontien.nl, 80
4. Emma Johansson (Swe) Hitec-Mistral), 71
5. Trixi Worrack (Ger) Specialized-lululemon, 62
6. Adrie Visser (Ned) Skil-Argos, 56
7. Kristin Armstrong (USA) USA, 50
8. Tatiana Guderzo (Ita) MCipollini-Giambenini, 50
9. Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (Fra) Rabobank, 42
10. Loes Gunnewijk (Ned) GreenEdge-AIS, 40
The next race in the series is Flèche Wallonne on 18th April - but before then, the next big one for the women is the EnergieWacht Tour this week - all Dutch-style sprinting, headwinds, cobbles and a whole other kind of craziness.... keep watching!