It's an unfortunate fact, but the women's races are still going through a precarious time - just yesterday, the always-excellent Gwéna reported that Le Tour du Languedoc-Roussillon, which was supposed to run from 18th-23rd May, and had ambitions of expanding to fill the place of the much-mourned Tour de l'Aude, has been cancelled.
It started out as a mass-participation ride in 1998, in honour of the first ever female Road World Champion, Elsy Jacobs, around her hometown Garnich. In 2008, the GP Elsy Jacobs elite day race was added, and it became a UCI-ranked race the following year - with another day race, GP Mameranus, in honour of two-time Tour de France winner, Nicolas Frantz, added in 2010, and a third race, a Team Time Trial, added last year. This year, those three races are now three stages of a stage race - I'll tell you more about it all below the jump - but before I do, check out my posts from when I was at this race last year - I loved every minute of it!
It was my first ever pro cycling race, so I was always going to be more hyperbolic than usual, but even apart from that, it was a fantastic set of races. This part of Luxembourg is beautiful, and the road races go through some fairy-tale countryside - rolling hills, forests, valleys with beautiful rivers, vineyards and a circuit that passes SEVEN castles! The organisation of these races is fantastic, too, and all the riders seemed really happy to race here, as everything's made easy for them. So what will they rider?
Prologue: City Trophy Luxembourg - 1.7km ITT
Edit! It's an evening
TTT - EDIT! or is it an ITT? I can't work it out! Individual Time Trial, using the same route as last year, but going in the opposite direction, and only one lap rather than last year's three. The roads are wide and smooth, and the route crosses two bridges over the deep valley between the different parts of the old city. There are only two sharp corners, and not much road furniture. The only issues will be the weather - there's lots of rain predicted - and the fact that the last teams riders will be riding under streetlights in the dark.
Everyone will be looking at Specialized-lululemon, who are stuffed full of ITT specialists. They're lacking Ellen van Dijk, who's in Gracia-Orlová, and Ina-Yoko Teutenberg isn't on the initial startlist (which is out of date, as half those lululemons are riding in the Czech Republic) but they should be super-strong. Their main rivals should be GreenEdge-AIS, Rabobank, and the half of AA Drink-Leontien.nl who are here.
Stage 1: Elsy Jacobs - 102.6km
This is the old GP Elsy Jacobs course - a 53.6km large loop that starts in Garnich, and runs through the rolling (beautiful) countryside, before coming back to for five laps of a 9.8km circuit of Garnich that includes a sharp little and descent, and an gentle uphill run to the finish-line. The roads on the little lap are narrow, so if there's a crash or a mechanical, a rider can be waiting a long time for her team car to make it through the snakey convoy to rescue her - and if a rider is not paying attention, and she's caught at the back when the breaks go, her race can be lost.
It has been one of those races that can end in different ways, but is always about attrition, the peloton being split into groups, and losing riders every time they hit a climb.
Last year, Marianne Vos won it from a trio of herself, Emma Johansson and Judith Arndt; in 2010, Emma Pooley solo-ed to victory, after attacking on the penultimate lap; in 2009, it was another trio - Svetlana Bubnenkova beating Grace Verbeke and Iris Slappendel, narrowly avoiding being caught by a chase group 18 seconds behind them. It will be fun to see how it plays out this year - solo or group, team leaders or plucky escape artists - but it's bound to be fun!
Stage 2: Nicolas Frantz - 99.1km
If you're thinking this looks a bit familiar, you'd be right. It's the same first loop, but this time starting with and having 5 final loops through the village of Mamur, home of Nicolas Frantz. Again, the final loop has a short, sharp climb and descent - which last year Marianne Vos used to attack and drop an elite group of five riders on the final lap. It's a different - and longer - final loop than last year, and looks like the climbs and descents are less sharp, but I imagine the effect will be the same - every time they hit the hills, the peloton will fracture even more.
It will be interesting to compare the new Nicolas Frantz course to the previous two years - and also how, or if, making it a stage race makes a difference. If there are a lot of big time gaps on stage 2, does that mean the GC contenders will be happy to let other riders, lower down the rankings, get away on Stage 3? The shorter TTT shouldn't make that much of a difference to the GC, but riders can easily lose 5-10 minutes on opponents when the peloton fractures on the laps.
There's a lot more information about the race on the excellent website, including the technical guide, with all the profiles etc. And check out my posts from last year's races - "backstage" before the races start, race reports from the Horizon Fitness-Prendas Ciclismo team car, and a post full of video interviews and photos of riders.
No word on video or tv coverage, so if you see it, add it to the comments - and that's where we'll add the usual results, news and random things we find from the race.