Sunday 6th March
This Sunday in Belgium, the main domestic race series for women, the Lotto Cycling Cup kicks off with round one of seven, the Omloop van het Hageland in the little village of Tielt-Winge. For us at Podium Café, this is a new race to follow. For VDS purposes in particular (and with an eye on finding races where riders not named Vos end up on the podium) we wanted to extend our race coverage beyond the UCI calendar to include the top level local races in the main cycling countries. Last year these races were collectively known as the Wielertrofee Vlaanderen, and were only on the Belgian national calendar. This year, however, they too decided to lift their profile, firstly by getting the sponsorship from Lotto, and then by making all races UCI registered and thus attract a stronger field of riders looking for points for qualification for the Worlds and Olympics.
This is the third time this race has been run, and the change in status to a full UCI race has given a slightly longer course and a substantially larger number of entrants. The course is pretty straightforward, consisting of one lap of a large 55km circuit that heads towards Leuven, followed by five laps of a smaller circuit of 13.4km for a total race distance of 122.6km. The local countryside is pretty flat with just one short but steep climb on the smaller circuit, but with what looks like lots of cobbles scattered all the way through. Here’s the profile of that final lap. If you look on the official site you can see some more maps and profiles, and also a link to a file you can import in to Google Earth if you want to take a closer look at the whole circuit.
The field is huge. There are twenty-five teams starting, each allowed to bring between five and eight riders, and only HTC and the mixed Deerlijk-Baal-St Kitts and Nevis haven’t entered their full complement. Well apart from Garmin-Cervelo who haven’t entered anyone at all. That’s almost two hundred riders, making this one of the biggest fields likely to be seen this year anywhere. Here’s a link to the full startlist. Both previous winners return, Andrea Bosman from 2009 with her new SRAM team-mates, and Emma Johansson from 2010 with Hitec, along with Dolman’s Martine Bras who both times lost the final sprint. Other familiar names to watch for who usually perform well in these sorts of races include Grace Verbeke, Adrie Visser, Suzanne de Goede and Emma Silversides (if she manages to kick off the bug that has struck her down). Elsewhere look out for Elisa Longo Borghini of Top Girls who rode surprisingly well in last weekend’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Eneritz Iturriaga with her new Lointek teammates, and Pippa Handley DSing this year for Specialised DPD, so possibly with time to write an even better race report than when she rode last year.
Will we get to see this one? Well for the past two years it’s been filmed by the Motomedia team who have done a far better job than lots of supposedly professional cameramen in other places where cycling is not such a popular sport (cough, California, cough) so I’m pretty hopeful. Click on the links under Andrea Bosman and Emma Johansson’s names in the previous paragraph to see the films. The organisers also list RobTV as their official media partner, so I’m pretty sure something will come out.
This race is preceded on Saturday afternoon by the second running of the Fleche Wanzoise, rather sweetly described by its organisers as "the only race for professional women in the province of Liege – if you don’t count the Fleche Wallonne."Here’s the official site and the not yet complete start-list which includes many of those riding at Tielt-Winge. And yes, I’m partly including this mention as a note to myself for when we consider which races to include in next year’s VDS. And if you’re interested in seeing what other competitions the Belgians run you can download a colour-coded calendar for them all from the Royal Belgian Velocipede League.