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Preview: Tour Feminin en Limousin

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20-24th July

The stage racing season continues this week with yet one more race. If they are coming at you so fast that you are having difficulty distinguishing them, then here’s a little primer to help you get it clear in your head.

The Giro Donne is the big one. Ten days long, an hour of TV coverage every day, the strongest field of the year. I sort of hope that you recognise and remember that one. Or to put it another way, the race in which the current Greatest Rider In The World scored more VDS points in ten days than any of the men bar two and women bar six (if you include Vos herself) have managed all season.

Tour de Feminine, Krasna Lipa, is the one we really, really meant to cover. If the Giro just hadn’t been so good. Actually this year the Café had a reporter on the ground, to give us the full inside dirt. As it were. Thanks, Miffy. We think.

Tour de Bretagne Feminin, aka Gwena’s home tour. Most of our previews and reports get bulked out a bit by links to news coming from all sorts of sources. For the Tour de Bretagne I could have got it down to a three word precis: Go read Gwena. This year’s race was wet, despite that got great support from the locals, and despite that was totally ignored by French TV. So there’s no video? Go look at Gwena’s pictures.

Internationale Thüringen Rundfahrt. The race with the most professional website. Think of a question, any question, about this race and the answers on the site. Profiles, history, maps, live ticker, plus a map with a bouncing karaoke ball to help you follow along at home. It’s probably even got a section on how to get horseshoes out of bicycle tires. This year we get the added bonus of on the spot reports from Pigeons.

Cascade Classic. The one in which we concede that Lyne and Steph over at podiuminsight.com know far more than us about domestic US racing.

Tour Feminin en Limousin. So what’s the defining feature of this one. Well if you remember one face from here then let that be the face of Claude Lecourt, who has to be the most enthusiastic, cheerful, and jolly race promoter around. Here he is discussing this year’s race on local TV, and I promise that once you recognise the face you’ll spot it in the background of just about every photo and bit of video from the event. A true modern day Wizard of Oz.

Things start off on Wednesday evening with the team presentation at La Souterraine. Yes, we don’t usually count team presentations as part of the race, but this on is going to have live TV coverage courtesy of local station France 3 Limousin, and for the rest of us who live outside the range of their transmitters that link goes to the web version, valid for another seven days at least. Go to 14:10 minutes in. And it will pop up on iTunes soonish. Does M Lecourt have a wardrobe full of crimson T-shirts?

Then on Thursday the race proper gets underway with La Ronde Sostranienne, a 20km lumpyish lap with just under 150m of climbing to be done each time round, but where all bar one tiny section is at under 5%.

Friday is an individual time-trial which starts in the town of Confolens. The route (or in pdf summary ) heads first into the nearby countryside, gaining around 100m in height, before dropping suddenly, through a couple of sharp hairpins, to the river Vienne. The last few are pretty flat and straight as they follow the river back to Confolens.

Racing proper resumes on Saturday with the Saint Junien stage, 126 km made up of three progressively smaller loops starting and ending in the centre of Saint Junien. I don’t know who at frenchpropertylinks.com came up with the line "If you decide to slip your hand into a glove while in France then the chances are it came from the beautiful town of Saint-Junien" but they deserve a special award for it. Something involving crayons or the like.

Finally the race finishes on Sunday with the most demanding stage: almost 1400m of climbing in 102km round and through the town of Bessines-sur-Gartempe.

So who’s racing? The official announer is probably humming that old Virgil Paul Williams number to himself, as just about anybody who is anybody will soon walk through that door. The field is huge. No less than 25 teams are going to be there (and at one stage 30 were listed), and with 6 riders per team that’s potentially 150 women lining fighting for position through the neutralised start. All the big French teams are present; Vienne Futurescope and GSD Gestion in full, and ASPTT and ESGL93 in mixed squads. The latter have interestingly joined forces with Japanese squad Asahi. Most of the Belgian and Dutch teams are there too, from Lotto down to Moving Ladies and Rabo Lady Force, and other familiar names are on National Duty, including Grace Verbeke and the Swiss/Nederland Bloeit pair of Emilie Aubry and Patricia Schwager. Podium Café people should also be cheering for star diarist and interviewee Miffy Galloway and Emma Trott on British team For Viored Brooke. And we’re still waiting for a picture of the Team Wit Cassina Rizzardi jersey.

France 3 Limousin are promising to give this as good coverage as they are able, but they have just 20 minutes a day to devote to the whole region. Or if you feel confident in your French, radio station RMJ plan to broadcast the finish of every stage live. And I’m sure Twitter will provide something once we know where to look.