7th-10th April 2011
It's time for the first European stage race for the women's peloton - ready for Dutch racing, women's style? It's often very flat, but the women's teams don't believe in sedate rides to the end for a bunch sprint - they generally believe in endless attacks, catches, escapes and death-or-glory tactics. I love it! And this is a brand-new race - The Energiewacht Tour, 4 stages in the Groningen Province, in the far north-east of the Netherlands. New races? Fantastic! And it's the first time we get to see the 2011 teams, with all the big sprint stars, go head-to-head. We'll see how well their new incarnations are working together, whether riders like Kirsten Wild and Giorgia Bronzini have got their road-legs back after the Track Worlds, if Marianne Vos can keep hers, if Ina-Yoko Teutenberg will be able to be as dominant as she was last year - and to get an idea of who to look out for in the next Road World Cup, the Ronde van Drenthe.
There's a little small advert for the race here - and for the TV coverage. There'll be a short highlights programme every day at 17:45 (except for Saturday, when it's 17:30) on the Dutch channel RTL 7 - and if it turns up online, or you see anything else, as always, add it to the comments!
It's also the first race in the Topcompetitie Vrouwen, possibly the second-biggest women's racing series after the World Cup. The Topcompetitie races are all held in the Netherlands - two stage races and three day-races. I'll tell you more about the race, and the series, below!
The 4 stages aren't the most demanding we'll see all year - and they're likely to be pretty much all flat - but then again, after the double of Ronde van Vlaanderen and GP de Dottignies at the start of the week, and with a heavy racing schedules starting with Drenthe next week, the riders aren't likely to complain... it just gives more scope for the Dutch sprinty types to get some more attack opportunities in!
Given the fact it's so flat, there will be time bonfications for the first 3 finishers in each stage, and mid-race sprint bonis in the first, third and fourth stages
Stage 1: Vlagtwedde - 101.5km, starting and finishing in Sellingen - 2 laps of 43.7km through the countryside, ending on 2 7km city laps
Stage 2: Oldambt - a short stage - 81km, 5 laps round a giant lake and set of wetlands. There are some long straight stretches, so this one will be fast and furious. It could be hard for riders to escape on this stage, but you just know they'll try anyway.
Stage 3: Zuidhorn - 123.6 km through what should be very beautiful countryside around Zuidhorn, including a nice out-and-back along a waterway. It's a mostly-twisty route, with plenty of opportunities for riders to escape out of the sight of the pack
Stage 4: Haren - technically it's not a crit, or it couldn't be part of the stage race, but it's 88.9km, 5 laps of a city circuit, ending on a long, straight-ish drag.
The startlist is a little bit out of date, but it has some big scary teams - HTC and Nederland Bloeit will be the ones to beat (Marianne Vos is an obvious one, but they have at least three riders who could win the GC - I imagine they'll sort it out on the road) but I'm looking forward to seeing how Kirsten Wild gets on, with her new team, AA Drink-Leontien.nl. Giorgia Bronzini said after Flanders that while she's riding, she thinks she won't be back to road form until Drenthe - and Rochelle Gilmore has been suffering from pretty horrible allergies.... but look out for Diadora-Pasta Zara's Shelley Olds, and Dolman's Landscaping's Martine Bras. I'm also interested in what Regina Bruins will do - last year she was a key member of Cervélo's sprint team, but this year is fronting Skil-Koga, a much smaller team. The team that could be suffering is Garmin-Cervélo, as Lizzie Armitstead is still out until Drenthe, and Iris Slappendel, who you'd generally expect to see at the front of this kind of race, is still having wrist problems...
This is as good a place as any to give an update of Topcompetitie 2011. It's a series overseen by the KNWU, the Dutch Cycling Federation, a competition for both teams and individual riders. It favours the hard sprinters (last year Kirsten Wild won it by a considerable margin) and covers some great races.
7th - 10th April: Energiewacht Tour, UCI 2.2
17th April: Ronde van Gelderland, UCI 1.2
23rd April: Omloop van Borsele, UCI 1.2
28th May: Dorpenomloop Aalburg, UCI 1.2
16th - 18th June: RaboSter Zeeuwsche Eilanden,UCI 2.2
Towards the end of the 2010 series, I did a little round-up, with links to the videos etc - some of the races are different, but it gives an idea of what to expect. You can see the rules etc on the KNWU website. The first 30 riders across the line score points to the overall competition, so there's a lot of scope to do well.
Last year, the races had great media coverage (I especially liked the Borsele and RaboSter live tickers) - and the Netherlands has a lot of tv channels that like to show women's racing.... here's to it expanding next year!