Ah, women's road racing, how much I love you! Attacks, more attacks and even more attacks, and seat-of-your-pants racing. This has been the first season I've followed all the way through, so to stave off withdrawal symptoms, and in no particular order, below the jump are 9 of my favourite (and one most memorable) moments - with videos and photos and linkys. Add your own into the comments!
Before you get there, however, I feel duty-bound to add's Monty's round-up of the 2010 season, because it was so fabulous, and so people who haven't been following the season can get a feel for it...
this year there have been three main rivalries in the peloton:
If the course is flat then the final will be between Ina-Yoko Teutenberg and Kirsten Wild, and the more important the race, the more likely Teutenberg will win. If you want to do some extra swotting then the race for bronze is between Rochelle Gilmore, Giorgia Bronzini, Shelley Evans and Marianne Vos.
When things get a little hillier then the two at the front are Marianne Vos and Emma Johansson. Characteristics to help you identify them? Vos is the one with her arms high in the air as she comes across the finish line. Third place often goes to Judith Arndt who sneaks in without being much noticed by either the cameras or the commentators. For a wild card watch out for Grace Verbeke who won’t beat those three in a sprint, but is remarkably good at getting into herself into a small group at the front then making a longish range solo attack leaving everyone else behind to argue over who should lead the chase.
Then when we hit the mountains the pair to watch out for are Emma Pooley and Mara Abbott. These two have been really simple to pick out this year: Emma’s the one out by herself at the front, Mara’s several thousand miles away going round some US car park. Third place, but some way distant is Tatiana Guderzo.
Judge for yourself whether that's true or not below the jump....
When I think back over the season, I think of Monty's amazing previews, and the excitement of getting to watch Drenthe live, in your excellent company. I'd have to love Drenthe anyway, because it's a ridiculous race - combining cobbles with about 3 different rides over the VAM-berg, a grassed-over municipal dump with a 10% incline, which has to be the greatest climb anywhere. Then this year Nederland Bloeit *really* wanted to win on home soil....
This was the race where I realised what the Bloesems were going to do to the season - at the start of the year I'd assumed that as Cervélo and HTC were so far ahead of all the other teams in terms of resources that they'd divide the season between them, with lone wolves like Marianne Vos and Emma Johansson stealing wins where they could, while their teams would just be anonymous reasons those two could get to ride.... but oh no! There may have been 3 Cervélo riders in the final break, and they may have attacked like madwomen, but Nederland Bloeit raced this one to perfection. Loes Gunnewijk took first place, Annemiek van Vleuten took second.... Just thinking about this race puts a smile on my face!
2. Emma Pooley
week fortnight month
Emma Pooley makes me very happy, always. I love all her self-deprecating interviews and I love the fact she looks so tiny on her bike. At the start of the year she was generally described as being a great climber, a great time triallist, but a terrible descender, and incurably allergic to the peloton, so not really GC material. I've no idea what she did in her off-season (well, apart from more work on her PhD...) but she clearly took all her weak points, worked them to death and came into 2010 with a plan... WIN!
I also love her because she was interviewed by Gavia, and clearly any rider who interacts with the Café has to be fantastic, right? As I hope you all realise by now, interacting with the Café is better than doping for a rider's performance, and since I demonstrated that with science, Helen Wyman has gone on to prove it incontrovertibly... but back in May, we hadn't realised the link... Gav interviewed her after she'd won Flèche Wallonne on the Mur de Huy ("It wasn’t really my work. The team did an awesome job") and that week she also won the GP de Suisse Time Trial and the GP Elsy Jacobs, the race that signals the end of the women's Classics season.
So she proved she was a Classics rider... but next up in May came the late, lamented, totally awesome Tour de l'Aude. Imagine me having a little moment of mourning for the fact that l'Aude is no more... a beautiful race, with Pyrenean climbing, a Prix de la Malchance for the unluckiest rider of each stage & all kinds of craziness - a memorable moment for all the wrong reasons was poor Annemiek van Vleuten and Liesbet de Vocht getting mis-directed and having their epic breakaway win stolen as a result... although we still got to see their hands-in-the-air-as-they-crossed-the-line photo... Monty has a great review of the race, with all kinds of fun stuff - and there's more goodies in the contenders thread comments - and Emma won stage 7 duelling through the mountains with American rider Mara Abbott, and went on to beat Mara for the race win by 4'42"...
She didn't stop there - one of my favourite Pooley moments was her accidentally winning the Giro del Trentino, which Cervélo had targeted for Claudia Häusler, by getting too much distance on the first stage... and she might just turn up later in this round-up again, but Emma Pooley Month made me a very happy fangirl...
Everyone loves Flanders, right? Well the women's race was about as Flandrian as you can get: Belgian Grace Verbeke winning for Belgian team Lotto, with key moves on the Molenberg, as captured by our very own Café reporters... Slightly surprised this didn't make her Flandrienne 2010, but at least we have the really sweet video from when she won it last year... Next year she manages to get even MORE Flandrian, if that's possible, as she'll ride for the All-Belgian TopSport Vlaanderen-Ridley 2012 - so if you're not sure who to support,and you're a fan of all things Flemish, this is the team for you!
Speaking of Café reporters being on hand to record races just for us, Jens was at the Vårgårda weekend taking photos for us, which is always awesome. There were two World Cup rounds on consecutive days - a team time trial and a road race. The Team Time Trial has been captured in Cervélo's first women's episode of Beyond The Peloton, which also makes it memorable for all the right reasons!
The Road Race will presumably be the subject of the next BtP film (pleasepleaseplease!) and it had some of the best home-made coverage ever - the organisers set up webcams at static points on the course and so we had partial live-film. It was a circuit-race with a thigh-biting climb towards the end of each lap, and on the last climb, Marianne Vos launched a crazy-fabulous kamikaze attack. She later said she was surprised no one went with her - but one of my favourite moments was Sarah Düster (my favourite sprint lead-out rider in the women's peloton, who'll be moving to Vos' Bloesems for 2011) killing herself on the front to chase her down, on behalf of Cervélo's sprint queen Kirsten Wild, who took full advantage of the beautiful lead-out, and sprinted to the win like the superstar she is. Amazing finish - and typical Vos. She could have just sat back and waited for the sprint, but she does love to attack, even when it's risky.
It was a toss-up for me whether to include Borsele or not, but it's such a lovely race it deserves a mention - especially for the great website. They have this week-long cycling festival, with about the only Junior women's stage race I can think of - and they put finish-line video and live tickers for each race on their website. I love the Dutch women's live tickers! The RaboSter Zeeuwsche Eilanden also has a great one, and they make me laugh, because Dutch sprint races are all about non-stop attacks, and they must be hell-on-earth to update - but I love them even more just for that! If I had to use a race to demonstrate why women's sprint races are different to the men's, I'd use Borsele, with bonkers attacking and insane racing right to the line. Kirsten Wild was a very worthy winner!
I came to women's cycling via watching track, so I always have a soft spot for riders who are also trackies - especially those riders who excel at the Points race... so Giorgia Bronzini winning the Road World Champs made my day. Giorgia is a great sprinter, but while she was on the podium all through the season, wins had pretty much eluded her... until September, when she rode into form at the Giro di Toscana. The Italian team rode such an awesome Road Race at the Champs - while the other really big teams in with a chance, the Netherlands and the UK, seemed to be riding to a set plan, the Italians seemed much more reactive, with at least 3 riders who could have won, depending how the race panned out. Bronizini's always been able to get herself over the short, sharp climbs, and she had Óscar Freire's talent for staying invisible until the key moment. When the camera showed the front of group-ette chasing Cooke and Arndt's escape attempt, there she was, tucked behind Emma Johansson... and then when she popped out sideways and exploded for the line I was out of my seat cheering.
I still think it's a shame Annemiek van Vleuten punctured on that last lap, leaving Vos without her team-mate - and I'm still not convinced the UK team's tactic was right... but Bronzini and her team rode so damn well, she deserved it so much. And yeah, Pooley winning the ITT DID make me just as happy!
7. Forza Marina!
The Italians were such a fun team at the Worlds, singing at Bronzini on the podium - but they also had a serious team goal, sending a message to Italian cyclist Marina Romoli, at the team presentation and through Bronzini's salute as she crossed the line.
Marina Romoli. This is one of the most memorable incidents of the year, but for all the wrong reasons. In June, just days before her 22nd birthday, she was out on a training ride with her boyfriend Matteo Pelucchi, when a car pulled out in front of her so suddenly that she went straight through the side window. She suffered horrific injuries - as far as we know she's still not able to walk, let alone ride - and she's lucky to be alive. It was a horrible moment - a reminder of how dangerous cycling is - and I will always be hoping for her full recovery.
What was also memorable was how the Italian cycling world, and Marina's team, Safi Pasta-Zara, made sure that Marina was present throughout the season. Races in Italy had Forza Marina! banners along their routes, and the Giro Donne took it on as their theme, playing a taped message from Romoli before the final stage. Since Marina's accident, her team-mates were riding to win with a purpose - when Elenora Patuzzo won the third stage of the Giro Trentino, she immediately dedicated the win to her - and when Alona Andruk won the first stage of the Trophée d'Or, she was extra pleased because all season she'd been chasing a win she could dedicate as well: "I’ve been trying for three months to get a win to dedicate to Marina. Now I’ve done it and [I feel] she’s here with me, my best friend who is fighting the most important battle of her life". Here's to Marina, and all the riders, teams, races & fans who continue to support her.
8. Giro Donne
Speaking of the Giro Donne, it has to be THE race of the year. Ever since the route was first announced, we knew it would be exceptional. I've probably mentioned the fact they had a day full of Alps, culminating on the top of the Stelvio, in every singe article I've written on women's cycling, but hey, it's the STELVIO! But the fact the Monty celebrated it by including Victoria Wood's "Let's Do It" in his stage preview actually made it even better than I expected!
Other great moments? Ina-Yoko Teutenberg winning 4 stages in a row, including the Time Trial was pretty special; it was great to see Mara Abbott back on European soil, winning two stages and the race itself (her cake was pretty nice too!); I especially loved Aussie Lisa Jacobs blogging about the joys of riding it for the first time - and I will always remember the Silver Throne Of Winningness as a high comedy moment. Yes, at the end of each stage, every rider who'd be on the podium was corralled into a little enclosure where everyone had pink beanbags to sit on, except the winner, who had a silver throne. I'm easily pleased...
9. GP de Plouay - the final race in the Road World Cup
The other big competition of the year was the Road World Cup - 9 day races, with points from each going towards an overall winner. I described the story of the World Cup in more depth (& with videos): part 1 and part 2 and the last race of the series was SO exciting. At this point, Marianne Vos was very much in the lead, but in Vos style, she wasn't going to leave the win to chance. And we got to watch it live! With a livethread!!
When the tv kicked in, there had already been crazed attacks by one of my favourite riders in the whole world, Sharon Laws, and her team-mate Lizzie Armitstead, and Sharon being back racing after she crashed hard in the Giro Donne, breaking her collarbone (again) made me happy. We picked up the coverage as Marianne Vos, Judith Arndt, Emmas Johansson and Pooley had escaped down the road. I have to admit, I was worried - every time the 4 went over the hill, Pooley was looking like she was in trouble, all wobbly and like she was about to fall off the back... ha! She was sandbagging, and in the last lap tried once to escape, but Vos chased her down, and then, in one of my all-time favourite moments ever, turned up the gas on the last lap, and leapt off up the road.
That's not the best quality video (but thankyou so much, Cycling Donne, for being the best place to find video on the web!) - so check the UCI's video below for the decisive moment. As Vos looks over her shoulder on the left, Pooley attacks hard on the right, and despite Vos chasing as hard as she can (and Vos is THE pre-eminent talent in women's cycling), there was nothing to be done. Such beautiful riding!
Vos was such a worthy winner of the World Cup series. 2011 will be much more open - with all kinds of new teams, the talent will be spread out across the peloton - and Vos is focussing on the track over winter, so will miss the first (and maybe first three) rounds of the World Cup (yes, the Track World Champs really are timetabled against the Road World Cup...) - so I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next...
10. Podium Cafe
My final memorable thing about the season has been being about to follow it on the Café. Yes, yes, I know, that's unbelievably soppy, but still, I've loved it. Monty's previews, Gavia's interviews, the links to so much great stuff, like the riders' excellent blogs, and all your fabulous knowledge. I've learnt so much from you all, and loved having a place to witter, rant and fangirl all season. Thankyou! Thanks to all the riders who shared their information and thoughts online for us, and Mr Vicki Whitelaw for updating Vicki's blog when she couldn't; HUGE thanks to Sarah Storey, Marijn de Vries, Vicki Whitelaw, Helen Wyman, Kirsten Wild and Gabby Day for letting me interview them; thanks to people like Anton Vos and Manel Lacambra, who kept us up to date with results via twitter; thanks to Skip on 606 for all his amazing information; and thanks to everyone who put up videos on youtube so we could follow races; thanks to Monty for all the screenshot reports when video wasn't available; thanks to Gav and Chris for giving me a space on the Café - and thanks especially to all of you who comment & chat & made me laugh endlessly. Can't wait for the next season so we can do it all over again!
If that's not enough videos for you, you can find more via the links in my Worlds contenders round-up, in my round-up of the Topcompetitie Vrouwen and in the comments of most of the race previews... And if you're still not sure which rider you should be supporting, this is slightly out-of-date, but may still help!