It's been a while since we had the last round of the women's road cycling World Cup, but it's August, so we're off to Sweden for two very special rounds - the Open de Suède Vårgårda Team Time Trial and Road Race.
The Vårgårda races are always interesting. They're the first proper opportunity we have to get an idea of teams' form ahead of the trade team Team Time Trail World Championships (try saying that three times fast) - and after the summer Stage Race season, it's good to have a tough day race to watch. And I do mean watch, because Vårgårda is known for some innovative streaming. You'll either love it or hate it - as you can imagine, I'm a HUGE fan - but I'll tell you why after the UCI videos of last year's races:
Team Specialized-Lululemon wins TTT @UCI Road Women World Cup (via ucichannel)
If you're new to the Road World Cup, the first four rounds are packed together - four Spring Classics, the Ronde van Drenthe, Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Ronde van Vlaanderen and Flèche Wallonne (videos and my stories and photos from the race) - and then in May, the only round to take place outside Europe, the sprinty Tour of ChongMing Islandd in China. We have three stages left: the two Swedish races and then the hilly GP de Plouay on 31st August. For the story-so-far of the competition, you can see the results and rankings on the UCI website, there's a Story Stream here on Podium Café and I've been collecting 2013 World Cup videos into a youtube playlist.
Tell me more about the races!
Team Time Trial
The TTT is on Friday 16th August, and starts at 17:30 CEST. It's the same 43.5km course as previous years, running out from Vårgårda to Herrljunga, turning around in the town (some technical moments) and running back again, on the same long, flat, WINDY road, and then taking in a hilly 11km loop that's the same route as the Road Race lap. It's a good, challenging course, requiring a lot of team skills - and one team have become very familiar with over the years.
Here's the technical guide, and my preview from last yearr (given it's the same course, no point repeating it - and it includes all the information about UCI points etc), and there are previews on VeloFocus (lots of stats, great maps and streetview), on Les Déesses de la Route (the usual good narrative and context), on Velorooms (with lots of chat in the comments) and two in Spanish, on El Pelotón and by Saul on Cobbles & Hills. There's a really nice article on the ORICA-AIS website about how the team is preparing for the TTT and Road Race.
UPDATE! Here’s a video preview of the course from Rabosport – thanks ConfusedSpider
The Road Race
The Road Race is on Sunday 18th August, starting at 13:00 CEST, and again, this is a very familiar course. It's 12 laps of an 11km circuit, with the hill in the middle, and starting and finishing in Vårgårda, so some technical corners. It's an interesting course, because although that hill is there, it's hard enough to drop riders in the typical World Cup attrition, but the tough sprinters can get over it, so while it can be won in a breakaway (like last year, when Iris Slappendel won) it's more often a bunch sprint, and the Dutch have been dominating here.
Lots of information in the technical guide, and again, as it's the same course, have a look at my preview from last year. Again, there are previews on Velofocus, Les Déesses and on Velorooms. Watch out on the ORICA news page for their RR preview, too.
So, how do we follow the World Cups?
It's interesting, because there's nothing on the website yet - but I emailed the race organisers, and they say there will be tickers and hopefully some streaming, and they'll add the information to the race website when it's done. I'm happy about this, because this race is known for creative approaches. They generally have an excellent ticker - and there's been great twitter updates on the Vårgårda.nu account, so while the information isn't there yet, check back there - and I'll update here, of course.
In recent years, Vårgårda has been known for some really innovative ways to stream a race on a budget. They've had a fixed camera on the finish-line, that they streamed from every time the peloton came passed, and last year they also had a camera on top of the hill, and and combined with the ticker, and coverage on Swedish radio, this was charming, and a great, cheap way to let people follow the race. I must admit, some people find it hard to follow, but I'm always delighted to get live information, and found this charming. You have to pay a little more attention than to a standard tv coverage, but if it happens again this year, I highly recommend it. When I find more information, I’ll edit it in.
UPDATE! The races are featured with audio coverage inSwedish radio via Vårgårda.nu, if you understand it, or like the way it sounds. And Vårgårda.nu are also putting up images from the TTT onto their website as the race goes on
And of course, twitter is here to help! I'll be updating my twitter list of accounts that live-tweet races, for a twitter-ticker. This year, Velofocus will be out there, and if you saw his coverage of the Giro Rosa, you'll know we should get some great fan's-eye view reporting from him. And Swedish cyclist Tina Levin will be there too. She's getting over injuries and health issues this year, but she's a super-enthusiastic fan, and her twitter is SO well worth following too!
There'll be UCI videos shortly after the race, and in previous years, we've had lovely photography from Swedish photographer Christer Hedberg. I think he's there this year too - follow his twitter, and have a look at his photos from 2012 and from 2011, they're really gorgeous!
Finally, there'll be live-ish threads here on Podium Café, and we'll be chatting throughout the race. The TTT thread is here. And I'm on twitter as @_pigeons_, if you have anything else I can help with.
Who should we watch?
In the TTT, all eyes will be on Specialized-lululemon, because while the TTT has run for five years, only two teams have won - the Cervélo Test Team in '08, '09 and '10, and HTC-Highroad, which evolved into Specialized, in '11 and '12. Spec-lulu may have lost some TT stalwarts like Judith Arndt and Charlotte Becker, but they're the most experienced TTT team out there, and with Ellen van Dijk, Evie Stevens, Lisa Brennauer, Carmen Small, Tayler Wiles and Trixi Worrack they have some serious firepower.
But ORICA-AIS are more than ready to steal their crown, both at Vårgårda and the World TTT Champs next month. ORICA are also stacked with talent, and I can't wait to see how these two match up! Fighting for bronze, my bets will be on Rabobank-Liv/Giant and Argos-Shimano, with Wiggle Honda as the dark horse. Wiggle have been saying all year that they're targeting the TTT, but we've no idea how they'll do. Linda Villumsen is one of the superstars of ITT, and Charlotte Becker was a mainstay of Cervélo and Specialized - but I have no idea how they'll run as a team, and I love that. It'll be a fun one to follow
The Road Race
In the Road World Cup, Marianne Vos (Rabobank) leads the series with 249 points, ahead of Emma Johansson (ORICA) on 177, Ellen van Dijk (Specialized) on 159 and Elisa Longo Borghini (Hitec)on 156. Elisa isn't there, as she's still recovering from her broken hip, but Vos won here in 2009, and supported her team-mates Annemiek van Vleuten and Iris Slappendel to their 2011 and 2012 wins. She's had some time off the bike due to a pinched nerve, but this is Vos! She's always a threat!
Emma Johansson will really want this win, not only because of the World Cup, but because it's in her home country. She's been third twice, in '09 & '10, but she's having a great year, can she add her first 2013 World Cup victory to that?
Then, Ellen. The TTT is a big goal, but Van Dijk has really stepped up a notch this year, improving her climbing and she's fast. She was second in 2011, and she has an advantage over Johansson in that she's Dutch, because not only have the last four winners been Dutch, of the nine riders who've been on the podium since 2009, six were Dutch too!
If we're looking to the sprinters, Kirsten Wild (Argos) won in 2010, and Wiggle's Giorgia Bronzini has just come off a phenomenal six wins in a row at the Route de France. Lizzie Armitstead (Boels Dolmans) had three podiums at the Route de France, and Shelley Olds (Tibco) is always fast... and she's not on the startlist, but Valentina Scandolara (MCipollini) has been having a brilliant few months, and I'd love to see the Crazy Horse attack for her first World Cup podium!
And finally, because I will always be looking for excuses to show these, if you want to know what it's like for riders to race Vårgårda, two videos from the much-missed Cervélo Test Team, from back in 2010. I miss that team and always will...