[Update] Bumped from below. The race starts in like six hours.
Apart from severe sleep deprivation, the women's road race should give us some insane racing, with attacks, more attacks and even more attacks, from a whole host of crazy riders. But given that there's a lot less of women's racing on tv, and some of the commentators get a little bit confused as to who's actually racing (oh the JOY of Hugh Porter...) you might want some top tips on how to spot the riders from their style. And as always, Podium Café is here to help!
I'm not doing all of them - just the riders I'll be watching out for. Plus I know, I know, I should be able to tell them by what bike they're riding, but I'm rubbish at that (I can spot Cervélo riders, and that's about it). Name-links lead to pictures of the riders in the field, and if you have any cunning rider-recognition techniques (or riders to look out for) add them in!
*** EDIT!!! Monty has some really great thoughts on possile team tactics in the comments - and a really funny short précis of how the 2010 season has gone - I can't recommend it enough. Scroll right down and look for the glowy-green comments, you won't regret it! ***
My personal theory is that this will be most like GP Plouay, where after some practice attacks, a break formed of 4 of the riders who've got to be heading up the list of favourites for Saturday. Here's a mini-video so you can see their riding styles in action
MARIANNE VOS - NETHERLANDS
The easiest way to spot Marianne is through her endless attacking, acceleration on the short, sharp climbs, and the fact she's the rider everyone else will have their eye on. If she attacks, expect fireworks and an immediate response from anyone nearby who still has legs. And if it comes to a bunch sprint, she's been known to out-sprint everyone. She's usually got a little small ponytail of brown curls tucked under the back of her helmet and she's very physical with her bike, really pulling it around as she works. And this girl knows how to work! She's a former World Champion on the Roads, Track, & current World Champ in 'Cross (her 3rd) and she's only 23....
JUDITH ARNDT - GERMANY
Arndt has the super-skinny, compact frame of a climber and GC threat. She's another former World Champ, so if you see a German with rainbow trim on her kits, that's her. She's probably the smallest of the Germans, with a very characteristic determined look. She'll be looking for a chance to attack and escape into a nice long breakaway. She's not got the best sprint, though, so if she does get away, she'll be attacking at the end
EMMA POOLEY - GB
Emma's possibly the easiest rider to spot, as she is TINY, and has a very upright climbing style when it goes uphill. If there's a killer breakaway, and they're going over the big hill with 3 laps to go, and there's this tiny little rider looking tired and about to be dropped off the back, it's Emma, and she's sandbagging. Watch the video at 1:43 for what happens when she accelerates, it's beautiful (and for Marianne, in the World Cup jersey, killing herself, Vos-style, to chase her down). She might be a bit tired after winning the ITT, but the prospect of Double Rainbows is awesome!
EMMA JOHANSSON - SWEDEN
Both the Emmas have little blonde ponytails, so that's not much help - but the easiest way to spot her is she's the Swede who is up at the front! She's not the one with a huge amount of long bright blonde hair streaming out behind her - that's Emilia Fahlin - and she often seems to get hidden behind the other riders. She's a consistently strong day racer, though, with a strong showing in the World Cup series - and this course could be right up her street....
So, who else to watch out for?
My No. 1 team this year is THE NETHERLANDS - the biggest problem this team is going to have is knowing who to ride for, as they've got at least 3 riders who could win it, depending on how it pans out. If it gets bunchy-sprinty, you'll see KIRSTEN WILD at the fore. Kirsten is always recognisable, as she's very tall, with a proper Dutch sprinter's build. If it's raining and windy, she'll probably be the one grinning all over her face, as those are her favourite racing conditions. She's got red curls, and freckles, but really, you can't miss her, she's taller than the average rider. Fast forward to the 2 minute mark here to see her in action.
If I had a pick a dark horse to steal the win, it would be ANNEMIEK VAN VLEUTEN, who's having a great season, following an operation to clear scar tissue out of her femoral artery last winter. Annemiek is a genius at those nasty attacks that are non-winners for everyone else (let Annemiek go for the win, or chase her down & help Marianne?). She's been really versatile too, attacking on climbs & flat and everything in between. She's got straight browny-blondey hair, she's pretty, but looks quite anonymous riding. Often wears big earrings, which is my useful way of telling which Nederland Bloeit it is doing the attacking. Watch her win the Eurocup from the 5 minutes mark
Next nation of favourites are THE ITALIANS - and with TATIANA GUDERZO as defending champion, they'll be all out for some more Vos-harassment, just like last year - here's Tatiana escaping for the win while NOEMI CANTELE looks like she's having a great time stopping the others chasing her down. Noemi really knows how to ride herself into form at this time of year, and it could be more suited to her than Tatiana. Noemi you can spot by her strong jawline - here she is winning a stage at the Giro Toscana earlier in the month.
The Italian I think the course might suit most is GIORGIA BRONZINI - especially if it does go to a sprint - and she's not shy about getting into breaks & hauling herself over hills. She's come 2nd & 3rd in sprints all year, but she's another one who hit her stride in Toscana. She's a trackie, so smaller than the other sprint queens, with very short dark hair, a facial piercing under her mouth (labret?) and wears a wooden-looking necklace. Sprints head-down, track-style. She's got a recognisable style, but I can't find a great video of her.
Originally THE GERMANS looked like a super-scary team, with a rider for every occasion, but they've dropped down my list due to the loss of mountain goat Claudia Häusler and killer lead-out rider "crazy in the corners" Sarah Düster, both to injuries. But they haven't dropped far, and anyway, every single one of you should be supporting INA-YOKO TEUTENBERG, given that she came & livechatted with us! Teute is *the* dominant sprinter of 2010, winning more races than her team-mates Cav & Greipel combined (probably! They might have caught up by now..), and you'll be able to spot her by her forceful, compact style and proper sprinter's build. Here's a race where despite having a bike change at 00:49 here, she recovers & still wins (around 2:09)
The other one to watch is CHARLOTTE BECKER - national champ and winner of the World Cup GP Valladolid. In Cervélo's roster of stars she's more often on support duty, but she could be one for crazy breakaways - and she has a strong sprint at the end. You'll spot her because she's the tall, very blonde German - here's her Valladolid win - from about 2:33 she's on the attack with compatriot Arndt & Annemiek Van Vleuten - by 3:03 she's won the race.
Home advantage goes to THE AUSSIES, and while I think they're all great, and am betting they'll all be entertaining to watch, my 3 to watch are Café favourites VICKI WHITELAW and TIFFANY CROMWELL, and red-haired Cervélo rider CARLA RYAN. Vicki has curly brown hair, and is likely to be inflicting all kinds of pain on herself, especially as the roads go uphill (I never found any video of her at l'Ardeche, sadly). Tiffany is blonde and petite, and if you see a rider with awesome nail art that's her! Carla would be a team climbing star at almost any team other than Cervélo - it was suggested recently that she won't be riding for them in 2011, so here's to her riding her socks off, impressing teams and getting a great team for next year..... (I can't find Aussie-based video for riding styles - if you can can you please post in the comments?)
GRACE VERBEKE is the BELGIAN who stands most of a chance. She's a tough Classics-esque rider, winning this year's Ronde Van Vlaanderen by attacking on the hills and solo-ing home. She's not got the best sprint out there - and she had a mid-season break, so may not have her early-season form.
There'll be a lot of RUSSIANS in the race, but I can't see past OLGA ZABELINSKAYA, former Junior ITT Champ, and back from maternity leave to burn up the roads. Blonde, serious-looking on the bike, she's a distinctive rider, with some excellent descending skills. Check out her attack on the descent at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda World cup round - around the 3:26 mark - she's in blue Russian kit. She was unlucky that the chase group had some of the best riders in the world in there, who were happy to work together to chase her down, but that kind of riding could win her more rainbows...
Sorry, my American friends, but I don't think it's the right kind of course for TEAM USA... although my bet for top contender, EVELYN STEVENS, did attack and solo for about 70km to win a Giro Donne stage. I just don't know if this is hilly enough for her. She'll give it her all, whatever happens. She'll be the one with dark brown hair, and for some reason looking as though her helmet's too big for her ....
And finally, my team, the Brits. Pooley's my favourite out of these - although NICOLE COOKE is a former World & Olympic Champion, she's still getting over her Rainbow Curse, and has never really found her form all year. I'd love to be a fly on the wall at their team meetings, because Nicole was veeeery unhappy after she lost her National RR title to Pooley this year (it would have been her 10th in a row) - but then again that could've just been a case of "microphone in face straight after the race" syndrome, and blown out of proportion by the media. Emma's not the best smack-talker, and was bigging up Cooke in her post-ITT interviews, but I'll be surprised if Cooke has the form. It'll be fascinating to see if she works for the others, though, as she's very much used to team leader status...
LIZZIE ARMITSTEAD could have an outside chance if it gets sprinty, I suppose - she's got a more trackie, slimmer build, with long brown hair. She'd lose time on the ascents but gain it going downhill...
Finally, I don't think she's a real contender, but if you're going to the race in real life, please please can you yell your head off for SHARON LAWS? She's adopted herself as Aussie, and she'd appreciate it if you'd show her some love! She's had a mixed bag of a season, but kills herself for her team leader - and we don't yet know if Garvélo are renewing her contract, so if she could come 2nd in your cheers after the Aussies, I'd be eternally grateful!
So, that's my run-through...... now all I have to do is wait to be proved wrong, wronger & wrongest!