Saturday is a pretty important day for women's racing. It's the GP Plouay, the final round of the UCI Road World Cup, a series of 9 one-day races spread across the season and Europe (with a diversion via China). If we're really lucky, there might even be a live thread for the race, so if you've missed any of the action, here's my guide to The Story So Far.
In each race, the first 20 riders across the line score points:
1st = 75, 2nd = 50, 3rd = 35, 4th = 30, 5th = 27, 6th = 24, 7th = 21, 8th = 18, 9th = 15, 10th = 11
11th = 10, 12th = 9, 13th = 8, 14th = 7, 15th = 6, 16th = 5, 17th = 4, 18th = 3, 19th = 2, 20th = 1
The rider with the most points wins. Riders can ride for different teams in the series - it's not unusual to see riders in one race for their trade team, and in another for their national team, which could make things a little bit confusing, when you watch all the videos below! And not all the riders will ride all the races - but it'll all make sense by the end, I hope!
If you're not sure which rider you should be supporting, you can use my handy guide here - and if you want more info about the races, the hyperlink titles take you to Monty's race previews, full of history, profiles and lots of interesting stuff. They're all well worth a look!
Round 1: Trofeo Alfredo Binda, 28th March, Varese, Italy
As you'd expect from a race in Varese, it was hilly, attacking and on tv! Below is part 3 - here's part 1 and part 2 if you like more context - and you can see Veronica Andréasson's behind the scenes vid here
In women's cycling, everyone attacks all the time, so listing each attack would take forever - but everyone gave it a go in this race, with riders like Emma Pooley, Vicki Whitelaw and Noemi Cantele throwing themselves off the front as soon as it went even slightly uphill, and riders being shed off the back like confetti. Olga Zabelinskaya celebrated her return from maternity leave by attacking like a madwoman on the final climb and descending beautifully, escaping in the last 4km. The small front group had been broken up by this attack - and when on the final descent, Irina Molicheva crashed, taking down Emma Pooley and Grace Verbeke, it was even more chaotic. It looked like Olga was going to make it to the end, but that chase group included some formidable riders, including World Champion Tatiana Guderzo, HTC's Judith Arndt and Noemi Cantele, Australian Champion Ruth Corset... and riding for the Netherlands National Team, Loes Gunnewijk, Andrea Bosman and last year's World Cup series winner Marianne Vos....
Zabelinskaya was only caught in the last 500m, and when it comes to a sprint finish after a hard, climbing race, there's no one to touch Marianne, who sprinted to win the first race of the season, with compariot Martine Bras in second and last year's biggest World Cup rival, Emma Johansson in third place. The competition was on!
1. Marianne Vos (Ned) Netherlands 3:27:37
2. Martine Bras (Ned) Gauss RDZ Ormu, s.t.
3. Emma Johansson (Swe) RedSun, s.t.
4. Ruth Corset (Aus) Australia, s.t.
5. Noemi Cantele (Ita) HTC Columbia, s.t.
6. Nicole Cooke (GBr) Great Britain, s.t.
7. Elena Berlato (Ita) Top Girls Fassa Bortolo - Ghezzi, s.t.
8. Judith Arndt (Ger) HTC Columbia, s.t.
9. Tatiana Guderzo (Ita) Valdarno, s.t.
10. Olga Zabelinskaya (Rus) Russia, +0:00:05
Below the jump I'll remind you of what happened in the rest of the first half of the series - with added links to all kinds of fun stuff! Follow me down, for Spring Classics, cobbles and lots more attacks - you know you want to!
Round 2: Ronde Van Vlaanderen, 21st April, Belgium
Flanders! The women's route was the last 120km of the men's race, complete with screaming crowds and live reporting by the Podium Café superstars from the depart and live from the Molenberg and the Muur.
The race started with a bit of a disaster, when a pedestrian stepped out in front of Belgian rider Liesbet de Vocht and team-mate Marianne Vos. Liesbet was taken to hospital with head injuries, and Marianne posted gorey photos of her bloody leg after the race. There was no more drama until the Molenberg, when Flandrian Grace Verbeke attacked on the cobbles and left the peloton in her wake. HTC's Adrie Visser chased and caught Grace, and the pair worked together.... until they hit the Muur, when Grace accelerated on the climb yet again.
Cevélo lead the chase, hitting the climbs hard, so only 7 riders were in front when they caught Visser. Working together, they got closer and closer to catching Verbeke, eating up her lead.... but they just couldn't catch her, and she took the race with time to celebrate. A Flandrian winning Flanders? You can bet the crowd went crazy!
Marianne took the sprint for World Cup points, ahead of Kirsten Wild and Emma Johansson, extending her lead.
1. Grace Verbeke (Bel) Lotto, 3h09'27"
2. Marianne Vos (Ned) Nederland Bloeit, + 3"
3. Kirsten Wild (Ned) Cervélo, s.t.
4. Emma Johansson (Swe) RedSun, s.t.
5. Adrie Visser (Ned) HTC, s.t.
6. Chantal Blaak (Ned) Leontien.nl, s.t.
7. Noemi Cantele (Ita) HTC, s.t.
8. Judith Arndt (Ger) HTC, s.t.
9. Régina Bruins (Ned) Cervélo, + 8"
10. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Nederland Bloeit, +51"
You can read Grace Verbeke's blog on her race, Liesbet De Vocht's report of her crash, and Vicki Whitelaw on these first few races. We're lucky that although we don't get much coverage of the races, the riders keep us in touch with what happens - my thanks to all of them, I really appreciate it!
Round 3: Ronde Van Drenthe, 10th April, the Netherlands
One week later and we were over the border into the Netherlands, for a marvellously crazy race. This was probably my favourite for the whole season - the route added climbs to a very flat part of the world by going 3 times over the VAM-berg, a grassed-over municipal rubbish dump, with a 9.7% climb. This race had everything Podium Café needs - cobbles, Bridie O'Donnell somehow getting lost and ending up in the middle of a WWII battle re-enactment and best of all, we had a livethread!
The cobbles were mostly in the first part of the race, with the first short, sharp ascent of the VAM-berg in between, and split up the peloton, as you can imagine. The course went back and forth over the same route, continually dropping riders, but with all the key players together until the final section of cobbles, when a great break with representatives of pretty much all the teams but one of the series leaders took off. Cervélo had Sarah Düster, Charlotte Becker and Iris Slappendel; Adrie Visser and Noemi Cantele represented HTC; Loes Gunnewijk and Annemiek van Vleuten were there from Nederland Bloeit, with Marie Lindberg (Red Sun Cycling), Giorgia Bronzini (Gauss), Brooke Miller (Tibco) and Chantal Blaak (Leontien.nl). Of those, Cantele was best placed in the overall standings, but not high enough to threaten - so most of the peloton wasn't going to make an effort to chase down their own riders. Olympic & former World Champion Nicole Cooke did her best to change that, and catch the group, with the support of Team GB team-mate Lucy Martin - but the peloton wasn't having any of it - although Australia's Tiffany Cromwell and MTN's Carla Swart managed to sneak off the front, winding their ways through the cars on the narrow lanes to reach the front group.
That group was just non-stop attacking, with the Cervélos especially taking it in turn to launch themselves off the front. At this stage I was betting that it had to be a Cervélo win, given that they had 3 riders and just kept trying it on... but every time they went, there was someone behind to catch them. The final climb split them a little, but they were soon all together, all attacking.... until Loes Gunnewijk leapt unexpectedly at less han a km to go, catching everyone by surprise and taking the win. In the mad dash for podium places, Annemiek Van Vleuten took second, and Giorgia Bronzini, just back from her track season, took bronze.
1. Loes Gunnewijk (Ned), Nederland Bloeit
2. Annemiek Van Vleuten (Ned), Nederland Bloeit, +1"
3. Giorgia Bronzini (Ita), Gauss, s.t.
4. Charlotte Becker (Ger), Cervélo, s.t.
5. Chantal Blaak (Ned), Leontien.nl, s.t.
6. Brooke Miller (USA), Tibco, s.t.
7. Adrie Visser (Ned), HTC, s.t.
8. Carla Swart (RSA), MTN, s.t.
9. Marie Lindberg (Swe) RedSun, s.t.
10. Iris Slappendel (Ned), Cervélo,s.t.
Wild won the sprint from the chase bunch, with Vos and Johansson taking minor points - the big change to the standings was Gunnewijk moving up to 3rd overall and Van Vleuten into 5th.
Round 4: Flèche Wallonne, 21st April, Belgium
The last race in the Spring Classics section of the series was another one shared with the men, and took roughly the same course - 1 less lap of the final circuit, and cutting out the "warm-up" section at the start - with the same final legendary finish on the Mur de Huy.
You may have noticed how up until now, the two biggest teams - HTC Columbia and Cervélo - while involved in all the action, hadn't managed to pull off a podium spot. This was unexpected, given that those two teams are in a different league when it comes to resources - so both teams were determined to change that for the last of the Spring races in the season. They battled together to keep it fast and furious, with Cervélo dominating the race, attacking on the climbs to make HTC chase them down, keeping everything under control, and delivering über-climber Emma Pooley safely to the bottom of the Mur de Huy. Emma attacked right at the start of the climb, to the surprise of HTC's Arndt and Evelyn Stevens, and once she started in on the climb was unstoppable, winning with a much larger margin than she'd expected. After the race she had a typically self-deprecating set of quotes about how the race had gone:
I have to say I have never gotten to the end of a race having done so little work. I have the most awesome team behind me. I didn't have to do anything at all. We had a really good team any of them could have won today. We have really good climbers they did absolutely everything. On the first climb at the Mur de Huy we had four girls in the front group. I wouldn't have won on the Mur if the riders on the other teams hadn't been so tired from taking down the other girls. Basically it was them who won the race. All I had to do was the last kilometre it was really easy (laughs). I attacked a little early on the really steep part, the ‘s' bend. I was supposed to wait for the team but attacked a little earlier because I was really impatient and a bit nervous that I might fall off my bike in all the excitement! So I went a bit early, and I had a gap but you never know on the Mur whether someone comes back at the end. It's only three hundred metres from there but it feels like miles. I had to take advantage of the steep section because my power is rubbish, it's only my strength to weight that is okay.
There are lots more like that, click on the link!
Chasing Emma up the Mur was former race winner, Nicole Cooke, who came in second, her first major result of the season after her horribly severe attack of the Curse of the Rainbow Jersey, with Emma Johansson and Grace Verbeke picking up valuable points for 3rd and 4th over Vos, who came in 6th.
1. Emma Pooley (GB), Cervélo, 03:01:27
2. Nicole Cooke (GB), Team GB, +08"
3. Emma Johansson (Swe), RedSun, + 08"
4. Grace Verbeke (Bel), Lotto, + 12"
5. Evelyn Stevens (USA), HTC, + 17"
6. Marianne Vos (Ned), Nederland Bloeit, + 22"
7. Tatiana Guderzo (Ita), Valdarno, + 22"
8. Elena Berlato (Ita), TopGirls, + 27"
9. Judith Arndt (Ger), HTC, + 40"
10. Eleonora Patuzzo (Ita), Safi-Pasta, + 42
This was the beginning of some incredible form for Emma - within the next week she also won the 1.1 rated GP de Suisse time trial and the hilly Classic GP Elsy Jacobs, before going on to win a stage and the overall Tour de l'Aude, the second biggest stage race of the year for the women - doubtless all down to the fact she was interviewed by Gavia! Ambitious riders, take note! You'd join an exclusive club, with Noemi Cantele, Emma Johansson and Ina-Yoko Teutenberg, who went one better and was interviewed by all of us!
So, those of you with great mental arithmatic won't be surprised by this, but after 4 rounds, the overall standings looked like this:
1. Marianne Vos (Ned), Nederland Bloeit, 155 points
2. Grace Verbeke (Bel), Lotto, 114
3. Emma Johansson (Swe), RedSun, 101
4. Emma Pooley (GBR), Cervélo, 82
5. Nicole Coole (GBR), Team GB, 78
6. Loes Gunnewijk (Ned), Nederland Bloeit, 75
7. Annemiek Van Vleuten (Ned), Nederland Bloeit, 70
8. Noemi Cantele (Ita), HTC, 62
9. Martine Bras (Ned), Gauss, 57
10. Chantal Blaak (Ned), Leontien, 51
11. Judith Arndt (Ger), HTC, 51
12. Adrie Visser (Ned), HTC, 48
13. Kirsten Wild (Ned), Cervélo, 42
14. Elena Berlato (Ita), TopGirls, 39
15. Tatiana Guderzo (Ita), Valdarno), 36
16. Giorgia Bronzini (Ita), Gauss, 35
17. Brooke Miller (USA), Tibco, 32
18. Charlotte Becker (Ger), Cervélo, 30
19. Ruth Corset (Aus), Australia, 30
20. Evelyn Stevens (USA), HTC, 27
You can see the difference doing well in just one race makes - and given that half the peloton wouldn't make it to the next round, in China, there was a lot to play for.... check back tomorrow, and I'll take you through the rest of the Story So Far!