and Marianne Vos talking about the course when she previewed it with the Dutch National Team back in March:
Here's what the course profile looks like:
So that's 140km, one of the longest races the women have ridden all year. Knowing the women's peloton, that flat, 57.2km run-in will be an opportunity to send off some early attacks - and all those sprint- and ITT-types will be enjoying this, knowing they can kill it for their team leaders here, before they reach the hills. If you wondered why teams like the Netherlands have brought riders like Kirsten Wild, when the race will be decided on circuit, this is why. Remember the Olympic road race, with Ellen van Dijk and Loes Gunnewijk attacking in the early stages? I would lay money we'll see the same sort of thing. We've said this before about women's races, but the attacks have a different purpose to in men's races - they're there to force breaks, to burn off as much of the peloton as possible, and to exhaust other teams. If you let a break go with "second string" riders in it, there's a good chance they'll work together, get away and win the race - and for the big teams, like the Dutch and Italians, who have a whole load of riders capable of winning the race, the peloton has to be vigilant on a course like this.
Once they get to that circuit, we'll see a different set of riders on the front. Five laps of that circuit (the men rider ten!), and it's not just about those Florentine climbs - Fiesole San Domenico, climbing 242m over 4.3km, averaging 5.2% gradient and getting to 9%, and then Via Salviati, climbing 250m over 600m at a thigh-biting 10.2% average, getting to 16% - but it's also the descents. The other side of Fiesole is the same, but technical, so we could see some of the top climbers getting overtaken and dropped, while less-good climbers could zoom down here. It's a brutal circuit, with plenty of opportunities to escape - but also for disaster... a puncture here, on twisting roads, could put a rider out of the race for good.
UPDATE! Here's the profile of that lap and the map:
And JaysMackie recce-d the lap, and here's what he says...
So how do we watch it?
We start with the tv schedule - in your timezones, for added help. If you, like me, are in the UK and look and that and scream NOOOOOO!!!!! because it looks we don't get it all live, never fear, the BBC website says it's live on the red button (and BBC website, here on the day) from 1pm and on BBC2 from 3pm. But even if you don't have tv in your region for all of it, there are options!
For some countries, you'll be able to watch it live on the UCI's youtube. It is geo-restricted, though, so check on the day. And if THAT doesn't help you there are the streams. Cycling Fans and Steephill will be able to help you on the day, ask on twitter, and as always, there'll be a live thread on Podium Café, where people will be talking about the race and sharing how they're watching it in the comments.
(If you have options, pro cyclists Rochelle Gilmore will be commentating on the BBC, and Martine Bras will be on NOS Sport Holland, so if you want commentary from people with direct experience of the riders and races, look out for them. And Ant McCrossan on the UCI stream is really enthusiastic about women's cycling, and promises special guests - RACHEL NEYLAN!)
Update: Video previews of the course from Monique Hanley - follow her on twitter, she's giving great race updates
And for additional commentary, Cyclingnews will be live-tweeting. Go to their race portal, and the link to "as it happened" should be open, and you can read their information. Then, there's twitter. Ah, twitter! As always, check out my twitter list, and there's been great tweeting from the Toscana 2013 accounts, in Italian and in English. In the past, Bridie O'Donnell has provided pithy commentweeting - and I'll be on twitter as @_pigeons_ and will be tweeting factoids about riders and so on.
So who to watch?
Here's the startlist, collated by the fabulous folk at Cycling Fever
If we want to compare the course to other day races, it's most like the Trofeo Alfredo Binda World Cup, which starts with a long loop and then has four laps with one hill and a descent, and it's always exciting. Check out the previous podiums on CQ Ranking - of course the best riders in the world, like Marianne Vos and Emma Johansson, but also the Classics stars like Trixi Worrack and Annemiek van Vleuten.
This year, the race was won by Elisa Longo Borghini, and at the start of the year I was saying she was a favourite for this race, and when she won this year's Binda, and blasted through the World Cup races, it just looked more secure. But then she crashed in the Italian National Championships in June, breaking her hip and ripping open her stomach, and she said in a video interview after the ITT that she's not at 100% yet.
Is that sandbagging? I hope so! But without her, Italy has some incredible talent. 19 year old Rossella Ratto was in the final break last year and ended up 6th, and has had some great results, including 8th at this year's Binda, and will be a great help - and with two former World Champions in the team, the Italians really know how to win. In 2009, on a similar course, Tatiana Guderzo and Giorgia Bronzini tag-team-attacked Vos over and over, until Guderzo got away to win - while Bronzini won in Geelong in 2010 by getting over the hill and then hiding in the group until the final sprint.... Bronzini has really improved her climbing this year, but the peloton know that, so she'll really have to fight not to get dropped. Guderzo, on the other hand, is a mountain goat, and came second in Binda last year... the Italians are the absolute masters of making their tactics on the roads, and they have so many great riders there, so keep your eyes peeled for that blue kit.
The there's the Dutch.... Marianne Vos has won Binda three times, and this course is perfect for her - and bear in mind that not only has she won the Worlds Road Race twice, in 2006 and 2012, she has never come less than second at Worlds! But she's definitely human, and every move will be marked.... Luckily her team is super-strong - Wild for killing it on the opening run, Dutch champion Lucinda Brand, who's proven all year how dangerous it is when she and Vos work together in breaks... I keep talking about Loes Gunnewijk and Ellen van Dijk attacking in the Olympics, and while Van Dijk has said she'll be a team worker, she was third in Binda, and has been superb in the Classics.... She's taken two gold medals from Toscana so far... I'm torn, because I'd love to see her repeating that Olympic fun, but I'd also like to see her at the end - while Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggan are both capable of winning a race like this. Van Vleuten has suffered from recurring problems caused by scar tissue in her leg vein, but she's such a great one-day rider - and the Dutch, too are brilliant for working in partnership. If you end up in a final break with two Dutchies, you'd better be prepared to chase down a hundred attacks, because there's no way these women sit on and wait!
The USA team are super-strong here, but the big question is who will they be working for? VeloNews say Mara Abbott, but I'm not so sure. Abbott won the Giro with her brilliant climbing skills, but I'm not sure the climbs here are long enough for her - and I don't know about her descending. Evelyn Stevens is a great one-day rider, and I can definitely see ITT bronze-medallist Carmen Small and Megan Guarnier getting into a break and doing really well. Guarnier has been riding in Rabobank-Liv/Giant all year, so she'll have learnt Vos' weaknesses....
Usually I'd pick the Russians for a course like this, but Olga Zabelinskaya isn't on top form, having given birth to her third child at the start of May. Antoshina is probably more of a pure climber than a Classics-style rider. The Germans have Trixi Worrack, and she's always great to watch, and aggressive opportunist, with silver medals from the Junior and Elite Worlds Road Race under her belt, and Claudia Häusler, who really suits this course. The Australians? In Stage 3 of the Giro Rosa, when it was a hilly course with technical descending, only Tiffany Cromwell could keep up with Vos, until she over-cooked a corner in a do-or-die descent - and she'll be riding with Shara Gillow, who does love the hills, and Amanda Spratt, who was out solo in this year's Binda and ended up 4th.
The French seem to always end up with a rider in the top 10, and this year I'm picking Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, whose six Junior World Champs medals - two golds in MTB, one in the 2010 road race, two ITT silvers and another in the 2009 RR - show how strong she is. I reckon we'll have at least one Canadian up there too, their team is stacked! Karol-Ann Canuel won the queen stage of l'Ardèche, while Joëlle Numainville is always a threat, though this one may be too hard for her, and Lex Albrecht will be great in the hills. The British aren't sending the full team we're entitled to, but Lizzie Armitstead is great at descending and I'd love to see her on the podium.
And then there's Emma Johansson.... Silver in the 2008 Worlds, Bronze in the 2010 Olympics, superb on all course this year. She does suffer from being the best at the same things Vos is the best at, but knocking Vos off the top of the UCI rankings, the first time Vos hasn't been no.1 since 2007, will have given her a confidence boost.
My bet is Vos - but what I'd really put money on is this being a fantastic race! I know, I know, cheesy! But the women always put on a huge show, and this is one of the biggest prizes of the year. Who's your bet going to be on?