The best Vårgårda Road Race we can remember... the 2013 World Cup

Open de Suède Vårgårda, by Velofocus - http://velofocus.com/2013/world-cup-open-de-suede-in-pictures/

The Open de Suède Vårgårda World Cup road race started in pouring rain, but was fast and furious from the start, and turned out to be one of the most exciting editions we can remember. Watch the videos, look at the pictures and find out more!

Highlights video from the Vårgårda TTT and Road Race from the UCI, commentated in English by the fabulous Ben Atkins:

The race was streamed by Vårgårda.nu, and you can see their coverage below. It's the best example we have of creative, cheap streaming - with a fixed camera on the lap finish-line, and half way through the race, they add a camera at the top of the hill, and in between there are graphics showing the position of the front rider/s and the group.  The commentary is part-radio, and all in Swedish - but it's clearly very informed, and I found it very enjoyable.  However, if you don't understand Swedish you might want to fast forward to the action.  It's 12 laps of an 11-lap course, so there's still lots to see.  I love Vårgårda as an example of how races make their own media - but it's not TdF level!

UPDATE! Here's a video of the road race, from Wiggle Honda, with Rochelle Gilmore in the team car, and Giorgia Bronzini talking about the race afterwards

***

The weather started cold, windy and very, very wet, but there were attacks from the start - the speed meant riders were dropped immediately.  This is typical World Cup tactics - the early attacks mean riders have to be paying attention and fighting for position from the moment the race begins, as any move can be critical.

Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (Rabobank-Liv/Giant) attacked on the second lap climb, and was joined by Evelyn Stevens (Specialized-lululemon), the two riders putting down strong markers that their teams were going to make this hard.  They were caught as they entered the town, and then Stevens' team-mate Trixi Worrack went out for a lap or so, and then, when she was caught, as the sun finally came out, it was time for the first group of the day.

The 8 riders - Lisa Brennauer (Specialized), Loes Gunnewijk (ORICA-AIS), Claudia Häusler (Tibco),  Nina Kessler (Boels Dolmans), Dani King (Wiggle Honda), Roxane Knetemann (Rabobank), Rossella Ratto (Hitec Products UCK), Esra Tromp (Argos Shimano) - represented all the big teams, and with Brennauer, at 14th, the highest in the World Cup rankings at that point, they were allowed to ride...  until four riders jumped off the front of the chase to join them - Lizzie Armitstead (Boels), Lucinda Brand & Ferrand-Prévot (Rabo) and Evie Stevens.  This was great for Boels, Rabo and the lululemons, but less so for the other teams - and then Vos, Emma Johansson (ORICA) and Linda Villumsen (Wiggle) bridged across, and suddenly it was very dangerous indeed.

More and more riders joined the front group, as Knetemann jumped off the front of that, joined by Gunnewijk.  The Dutch pair worked together but couldn't get too far away - and although they stayed out for a lap or two, they were joined by a select set of riders, so that by lap 8 the was a front group of nine:  Knetemann & Gunnewijk; the top 3 in the WC rankings, Vos, Johansson and Ellen van Dijk (Specialized); Van Dijk's team-mate and super-climber Stevens; two-times World Road Champion and top sprinter Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle); and young talents Ratto, Amy Pieters (Argos) and Anna van der Breggen (Sengers).  With three laps to go, and enough team-mates behind them to frustrate any chase attempts, the gap was 1:25, rising quickly to 2:00 - they worked hard together, and then as Vos lead them across the line for the penultimate time they had 3:20, and Hitec's Karl Lima tweeted this:

With enough of a gap on any chasers, this was the time for decisions.  They could ride together for a bunch-sprint finish, but Bronzini has been on excellent form, winning six stages in a row at La Route de France the previous week, and there were too many riders who could win there - so when Gunnewijk attacked, Vos countered and exploded up the hill, charging ahead, with Johansson and Pieters following her, and Bronzini, Gunnewijk, Knetemann and Ratto were the victims, dropping out of contention, as Van Dijk, Stevens and Van der Breggen struggled to reach the front trio.

We knew that the attacks wouldn't end there, but then at the start of the final lap, disaster for Vos!  She had got a slow puncture in the previous lap, and as they hit the final lap she still hadn't been able to change her bike, so had to pull over and it looked like everything was done for her.  She dropped back and continued as fast as she could until the Rabobank car caught up with her for a super-fast change.  Luckily for her, the five riders up the road had decided not to attack her, and she chased hard and caught them before the last climb of the hill.

This is one of those cycling rules of etiquette that can be hard to understand.  On the one hand, the sensible thing would have been to attack, and hard, and get away, because after all, this is Marianne Vos, the World and Olympic champion, who won in 2009 and was third last year.  But on the other, that's not how cycling works, and while not attacking limited the chances of the five riders, they wouldn't want to win the race because of another rider's misfortune - so they soft-pedalled and allowed Vos back.

Of course, once she was back, there was no mercy, and this time it was Stevens who attacked on the climb, with Johansson countering with one phenomenal push of her own that was so strong, only Vos and Pieters could match her.  Stevens' last effort had taken it out of her, so while the front trio raced to the finish, Van der Breggen and Van Dijk raced down the descent to try to catch them without her.  The first three worked together in a temporary truce for 5km or so, but Van Dijk mustered all her exemplary ITT power, and against all the odds, caught them at 1.5km to go, and, not satisfied with that, immediately attacked!  She was reined in, and as they came into the town, Vos accelerated, hitting the final corner first.

Out of all Vos' many skills, one that is most beautiful to watch is how she takes tight, technical courses.  She has a knack of entering a corner with other riders and coming out with a bike length or two's advantage - and with her sprint power, that's all she needs.  She had plenty of time to cross the line with her arms in the air, knowing she'd not just won the race, but even though there's one race left to run, she'd secured the overall World Cup victory - her fifth series victory!

Here's the RabosportTV highlights video - and doesn't Vos look delighted and glowing in it? She's not had a great month, with a pinched nerve exacerbating some back pain she suffers from - so she was really happy to be back on top form, and on the top of the podium!

Johansson just pipped Pieters to the line - but as this was Pieters' second World Cup podium, the 22 year old Dutchwoman wasn't unhappy about that.  It was disappointing for Johansson, however.  The Swedish rider still has never won her home World Cup - but there's still GP Plouay to come, the final chance for a World Cup win of her own.  Van Dijk came in some bike lengths behind the pair, and should also be proud of a damn good race.

2013 Open de Suède Vårgårda

1.   Marianne Vos (Ned) Rabobank-Liv/Giant, 3:26:41
2.   Emma Johansson (Swe) ORICA-AIS, s.t.
3.   Amy Pieters (Ned) Argos Shimano, s.t.
4.   Ellen van Djk (Ned) Specialized-lululemon, s.t.
5.   Anna van der Breggen (Ned) Sengers, + 00:25
6.   Evelyn Stevens (USA) Specialized-lululemon, + 00:48
7.   Loes Gunnewijk (Ned) ORICA-AIS, + 01:22
8.   Rossella Ratto (Ita) Hitec Products UCK, s.t.
9.    Roxane Knetemann (Ned) Rabobank-Liv/Giant, s.t.
10. Giorgia Bronzini (Ita) Wiggle Honda, + 02:03

Full results

World Cup rankings after the Vårgårda races

1.   Marianne Vos (Ned) Rabobank-Liv/Giant, 354 points
2.   Emma Johansson (Swe) ORICA-AIS, 252
3.   Ellen van Djk (Ned) Specialized-lululemon, 224
4.   Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Hitec Products UCK, 156
5.   Anna van der Breggen (Ned) Sengers, 123
6.   Annemiek van Vleuten  (Ned) Rabobank-Liv/Giant, 86
7.   Amy Pieters (Ned) Argos Shimano, 80
8.   Tetyana Riabchenko (Ukr) Chirio Forno d'Asolo, 75
9.   Giorgia Bronzini (Ita) Wiggle Honda, 69
10. Evelyn Stevens (USA) Specialized-lululemon, 59

Full rankings

We could tell it was election year, because Pat McQuaid was at the finish to congratulate Vos and demonstrate he does support the women.  I just hope he got to see this message, painted on the hill:

There are more race reports on the race's website, ORICA-AIS, Rabobank, Argos Shimano and Wiggle Honda.  Here's the article on Velonation.

The excellent CJ Farquharson has a report with rider quotes and lots of photos, and there are more of her photos on her CJFoto site.

There are some spectacular photos from the Road Race and Team Time Trial, mostly black and white, but some colour, by Christer Hedberg.  His work always takes my breath away, you should definitely click through.

UPDATE! Mega-fan Velofocus was at the race, and he's added a post of photos to his website - please click through and have a look.  And here are his photos of the TTT.

Doubtless there'll be more photos, race reports, blogs and videos, and I'll update them as I find them - and as always, please put anything you see, or anything I've missed, into the comments.  The final round of the World Cup will be the GP de Plouay on 31st August - but before that there's the Trophée d'Or and Lotto Belisol Belgium Tour - non-stop action, and September's even busier!

UPDATE! Here's the UCI video of half an hour from Vårgårda and the GP Plouay:

UPDATE! And here's a "Behind the Scenes" video, with race director Michael Andersen:

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