As before, if you want to know more about the races, click on the race names, and you'll be taken to Monty and Jens' superb race previews, which have profiles, info about the course and lots of fun stuff in the comments.
You may have noticed that fans of women's cycling are likely to start ranting at the drop of a hat about collapsing teams, disappearing races and how much we hate the UCI. The World Cup Series really suffered this year, as the GP Montréal folded, along with the 2 Canadian Tours that formed the backbone of the traditional North American section of the women's season. This happened because of the retirement of the organiser of the races, Daniel Manibal, with implications that the UCI had encouraged the sponsors of these races to transfer their support to the brand new men's Pro Tour race in Canada. And when Nürnberger Versicherung pulled out of sponsoring their team, it meant Rund um die Nürnberger Altstadt, the final race of the series, also collapsed. Yes, I am frothing at the mouth, but I'll move on...
With 2 races down, and the World Cup now purely European, the UCI promoted a race to World Cup series...
Round 5: Tour of ChongMing Island, 9th May, China
If you read yesterday's article, you might be expecting a race video here, but this was the most invisible of races of the series. We do have the fabulous CJ Farquharson's race report and photos of the race though, which are always amazing. Also missing were the top 7 in the World Cup Series standings, as Marianne Vos, Emma Johansson, Grace Verbeke and Nicole Cooke's teams didn't have the resources to get to China and back - or the will, given that it was far too close to the Tour de l'Aude for small teams to seriously contest both.... and Cervélo weren't about to send l'Aude GC contender and mountain goat Emma Pooley to a race like this one...
The day-race was preceded by a three-day Tour of the island, which covered a lot of the ground the WC race did - check out Monty's preview to see what I mean. It was pretty much pancake flat - it's an alluvial island in the middle of the Yangtze river - but the organisers cleverly managed to add in a climb on the laps, in the form of the ascent to the stunning ChongMing North Bridge, a 10-mile superstructure connecting the Island to Shanghai. The Tour had been a battle between Cervélo's Kirsten Wild and Café live-chatter Ina-Yoko Teutenberg from HTC - and despite their team-mates Charlotte Becker and Judith Arndt doing their best to have a 2-woman breakaway, it unsurprisingly came down to a bunch sprint - and Ina was yet again too strong for the opposition, winning HTC their first victory of the series.
I still think ChongMing was a strange race to add to the series (I'd've put Sparkassen Giro instead of Nürnberger - or better yet, Holland Hills - or if it had to be out of Europe, the Philadelphia Classic), but it was pretty good to see a whole load of new names up in the series standings.
1. Ina-Yoko Teutenberg (Ger) HTC-Columbia, 03:30:17
2. Kirsten Wild (Ned) Cervélo, +00:00:00
3. Rochelle Gilmore (Aus) Australia
4. Angela Brodtka-Hennig (Ger) Noris
5. Marta Tagliaferro (Ita) TopGirls
6. Ellen Van Dijk (Ned) HTC-Columbia
7. Aurore Verhoeven (Fra) ESGL
8. Emma Petersen (NZL) New Zealand
9. Melissa Holt (NZL) New Zealand
10. Xin Liu (Chn) China
Jump down with me to find out what happened next - every one of the next races has videos and much more!
The previous 5 races had all taken place over the space of a month and a half, and it was time for a break while the riders took in the Tour de l'Aude. It was a month before we had the next round:
Round 6: GP Ciudad de Valladolid, 6th June, Spain
This one was another course for the sprinters - out through the country and then 3 laps through the city. There were a couple of sharp little 250m climbs for the escape artists to take advantage of - and this being women's cycling, of course there were attacks!
Longer video, with all kinds of pre-race fun and Spanish pop
You can also see the race through CJ Farquharson's photos.
Once again, Judith Arndt and Charlotte Becker made a break for freedom, this time with Nederland Bloesem Annemiek Van Vleuten joining them. With their riders up the road, there was no incentive for HTC, Cervélo and Nederland Bloeit to chase that hard - but everyone else did, in a dash through the lovely streets of Valladolid that included a section up and down opposite sides of the same road. Would our plucky breakaway riders make it? Each of them such different riders - former Road and Track World Champion Arndt having the best pedigree of the three; Van Vleuten having the season of her life, following an operation on her femoral artery in 2009 - 2nd place in the Ronde Van Drenthe World Cup race, winning the Novilon Drenthe race a day later, taking a stage and 2nd overall in Gracia-Orlová and 5th place in the prestigious Tour de l'Aude. On paper, Becker was by far the weakest of the three.... but this was on the road....
The trio never let up, and Charlotte Becker timed her race fantastically, sprinting early from the front, just taking the race, her most prestigious day-race win of her career to date. The peloton came in a minute later, and Marianne Vos won the sprint for 4th place and more World Cup points ahead of sprint star Giorgia Bronzini and Emma Johansson, whose 24 points took her back to 2nd place in the overall standings.
1. Charlotte Becker (Ger) Cervélo Test Team, 03:02:09
2. Judith Arndt (Ger) HTC-Columbia, s.t.
3. Annemiek Van Vleuten (Ned) Nederland Bloeit, s.t.
4. Marianne Vos (Ned) Nederland Bloeit, + 01'06"
5. Giorgia Bronzini (Ita) Gauss Rdz Ormu, s.t.
6. Emma Johansson (Swe) Red Sun, s.t.
7. Monia Baccaille (Ita) Valdarno, s.t.
8. Nicole Cooke (GBR), Team GB, s.t.
9. Oxana Kozonchuk (Rus) Safi - Pasta Zara, s.t.
10. Pascale Jeuland (Fra) Vienne Futuroscope, s.t.
What would happen next? We'd have to wait another month to find out!
Round 7: Open de Suède Vårgårda Team Time Trial, 30th July, Sweden
Over to Sweden, and the fabulous Jens taking over previewing and promoting duties. The Team Time Trial was scored differently to the rest of the series, with the finishing riders in the winning teams taking home
1st = 35, 2nd = 30, 3rd = 25, 4th = 20, 5th = 16, then 15-14-13-12-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1
This race had been ridden twice before, and Cervélo won it both times. My pre-race prediction was that the podium would be 1. Cervélo, 2. HTC, 3. Nederlad Bloeit....
...and I must be psychic, because that's exactly what happened! It's not especially fair on the smaller teams, because both Cervélo and HTC have much larger rosters, and can field teams specifically aimed at time trials. RedSun and Lotto can't compete - so Charlotte Becker moved into 2nd place in the series standings.
The more interesting results than the top 3 were what happened next. Dutch team Leontien.nl did superbly, coming 4th, only 3 seconds behind Nederland Bloeit. I would never have expected that - it was a great result for the team - and Marijn de Vries blogs eloquently on the disappointment of being just 3 seconds away from the podium (she blogs on what it's like travelling to Sweden to cycle here - and on the race facilities here... If you're not already reading her blog, you should be - she's a cycling journalist who turned pro at 30, and her stories are always well told). The next shocker was Team GB coming in 5th just half a minute ahead of Australia - and the fact both of these national teams beat the pros....
1. Cervélo (Becker, Bruins, Slappendel, Wild) 00:55:34
2. HTC-Columbia (Ardt, Van Dijk, Villumsen, Visser) 00:56:42
3. Nederland Bloeit (De Vocht, Gunnewijk, Van Vleuten, Vos) 00:57:59
4. Leontien.nl (Blaak, Bosman, Brand, Van Den Broek) 00:58:02
5. Great Britain (Colclough, Cooke, Martin, Trott) 00:58:26
6. Australia (Corset, Gillow, Halliday, Rhodes) 00:58:57
7. RedSun (Brulée, Johansson, Lindberg, Pijnenborg) 00:59:09
8. Hitec (Mustonen, Petersen, Saastad, Schmidt) 01:00:09
9. Ukraine (Galyuk, Kaltovska, Koonenko, Solovei) 01:00:15
10. Lotto (Moolman, Schoonbaert, Verbeke, Whitelaw) 01:00:29
Round 8: Open de Suède Vårgårda Road Race, 1st August, Sweden
2 days later, it was time for the penultimate road race - 12 laps of an 11km circuit, including the thigh-biting Hägrunga-hill and 2 90 degree corners at the end of the lap (3, counting the turn into the start of the lap)
The organisers of this race were nothing if not ingenious, rigging up webcams at key points in the race, so every so often we had live video of the race, with Swedish commentary and pop music. Plus we had Jens live at the race, with his race report and photos.
Emma Pooley had been drafted into the team at the last moment, and given that she's allergic to the peloton, escaped early and rode a few laps out ahead by herself. The group wasn't in the mood for this kind of thing, and ate up her attack and any others that dived off the front. They were all together o the last lap, and it looked like it would end up in a bunch sprint, until on the last climb, Marianne launched a kamikaze attack, and sped off by herself up the road. She later said she assumed someone else would come with her to help, but that wasn't to be - instead Cervélo lead the chase, with Sarah Düster in particular putting some major hurt on at the front. In an echo of the first race of the World Cup series, it was touch and go whether the breakaway rider would reach the line before being caught by the chase group - and the result, in one way, was the same. Even Marianne couldn't hold off the might of the peloton - and in her first tactical mistake of the season, was passed by a front set of riders including her season-long rivals, Emma Johansson and Grace Verbeke - with Kirsten Wild powering to the finish in a perfect sprint, to add another win to her impressive palmares, and moving to second place in the standings
1. Kirsten Wild (Ned) Cervélo, 3:23:33
2. Adrie Visser (Ned), HTC-Columbia, s.t.
3. Emma Johansson (Swe) RedSun, s.t.
4. Annemiek Van Vleuten (Ned) Nederland Bloeit, s.t.
5. Ellen Van Dijk (Ned) HTC-Columbia, s.t.
6. Grace Verbeke (Bel) Lotto, + 4"
7. Chantal Blaak (Ned), Leontien.nl, s.t.
8. Charlotte Becker (Ger), Cervélo, s.t.
9. Irene Van De Broek (Ned) Leontien.nl, s.t.
10. Megan Dunn (Aus) Australia, s.t.
11. Marianne Vos (Ned) Nederland Bloeit, s.t.
So as we head into the final round on Saturday, this is what the standings look like:
1. Marianne Vos (Ned) Nederland Bloeit, 220 points
2. Kirsten Wild (Ned) Cervélo, 202
3. Emma Johansson (Swe) RedSun, 174
4. Annemiek Van Vleuten (Ned) Nederland Bloeit, 160
5. Charlotte Becker (Ger), Cervélo, 158
6. Grace Verbeke (Bel) Lotto, 158
7. Adrie Visser (Ned), HTC-Columbia, 137
8. Judith Arndt (Ger) HTC, 131
9. Nicole Cooke (GBR) Team GB, 112
10. Loes Gunewijk (Ned) Nederland Bloeit, 108
11. Chantal Vlaak (Ned) Leontien.nl, 92
12. Emma Pooley (GBR) Cervélo, 82
13. Ellen Va Dijk (Ned) HTC, 81
14. Ina-Yoko Teutenberg (Ger), HTC, 78
15. Martine BRAS (Ned) Gauss, 63
16. Giorgia Bronzini (Ita) Gauss, 62
17. Noemi Cantele (Ita) HTC, 62
18. Regina Bruins (Ned) Cervélo, 59
19. Iris Slappendel (Ned) Cervélo, 50
20. Elena Berlato (Ita) TopGirls, 48
What'll happen in the final race? Remember, the scoring system goes like this:
1st = 75, 2nd = 50, 3rd = 35, 4th = 30, 5th = 27, then counting down to 20th place: 24-21-18-15-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1
In theory, Wild could win - but she's as near to a pure sprinter as we get in the women's peloton, and Plouay is NOT a sprinter's race. For Johansson to win the series, she'd have to win the race and Marianne come 5th or lower - or Emma could come 2nd, with Marianne 18th or lower. Van Vleuten, Becker or Verbeke could also win the title, if they won the race, and Marianne came 10th or lower... I'd say it was unlikely, but then again, any rider could puncture and lose minutes, especially on a hilly, attacking race.... we'll have to wait until Saturday to find out!
Check out Monty's preview of the race to find out what it'll be like, as well as all sorts of superb information about the whole Plouay long weekend. And check into the Café on Saturday, because who knows, we may even have a livethread....
Any questions that are left, ask away in the comments.