It's been a huge week for women's racing, with two different stage races and an ITT as part of the build-up to the Worlds. The Tour de l'Ardèche is for the riders who love the hills, and the Profile Ladies Tour for those who prefer their racing Dutch-style - and riders who are gluttons for punishment finished l'Ardèche yesterday spent the evening driving across France for the Chrono Champenois, a 33.4km ITT.
So how did the races pan out? I'll tell you below - but first, video of Stage 6 of the Profile Ladies Tour, in the hills of the Valkenberg area, where next year's World Champs will take place - and the comments section will be the place to look for any more fun things that turn up about these races!
The race was 7 stages over 6 days, in the rolling hills around the Ardèche river in the South of France (for more information about the course see the race perview). The race turned out to be all about two teams - Garmin-Cervélo and HTC-Highroad. Emilia Fahlin started HTC's run of triumph, winning the prologue, a 2.4km timetrial. She followed this by winning Stage 3, the 3.5km ITT - and then decided to finish the way she's started, winning stages 5 and 6. Stage 5 was her first win in a UCI-ranked road stage - although she's a key part of HTC's super-strong TTT team, and has won stages and crits in Sweden and the USA, as well as winning the Swedish National Road Race in 2008, and the ITT for the past three years, so she's no stranger to the top step!
Fahlin wasn't the only HTC rider to win a stage - her team-mate Evelyn Stevens also had her share of the action. She had been in a group of 12 on the hilly stage, and then attacked hard, gaining 4'23" on the chase group, which was lead across the line by yet another HTC rider, Amanda Miller. Miller took another second place on Stage 6, and had a fabulous race, ending 4th in GC, and in the Best Young Rider jersey.
However, although HTC were very strong indeed, the other big team in the race, Garmin-Cervélo, were also on their A game. Emma Pooley threw down her marker on the first day the race started going uphill, getting into a superb break of 11 on Stage 3 and then attacking hard at the end of the long final climb, and over the 20km descent to the finish, gained 2'20" on her break-mates, and a fantastic 7'27" on the peloton. After that, all she needed to do was stay ahead of the best riders from that day's break - particularly Ashleigh Moolman (International Team) who ended up with the Queen of the Mountains jersey, Christel Ferrier-Bruneau (France) and Miller - which she did with ease, making all the important breaks of the race, with excellent support from her team-mates.
Between HTC and Garmin-Cervélo, it's impressive that anyone else was able to get results - so huge congratulations to Norway's Emilie Moberg, who won the bunch sprint on Stage 1. It was no easy feat, and it's great to see Moberg, who usually rides for Hitec Products UCK, getting some glory!
1. Emma Pooley (GBr) Garmin-Cervélo, 15:05:19
2. Ashleigh Moolman (RSA) International Team, + 02:20
3. Christel Ferrier-Bruneau (Fra) France, + 02:21
4. Amanda Miller (USA) HTC-Highroad, + 02:22
5. Ludivine Henrion (Bel) Belgium, + 03:01
6. Pia Sundstedt (Fin) Finland, + 03:54
7. Aude Biannic (Fra) France, + 04:13
8. Julia Martisova (Rus) Russia, s.t.
9. Lise Nøstvold (Nor) Norway, + 05:52
10. Joanna van de Winkel (RSA) International Team, + 04:45
More more information about the race, check out Le Blog de Gwèna, and for photos, Velopalmares. Amanda Miller is blogging on each stage from her point of view - and one of the nicest things about this Tour was seeing Miller, Amber Neben, Emilia Fahlin and Ally Stacher of HTC-Highroad tweeting their obvious delight in each other's success. Carla Ryan (Garmin-Cervélo) was another fabulous tweeter, giving us results and being happy for both her team-mates and HTC. Twitter gives a great window into riders' personalities, and this was lovely!
Here's video of Fahlin winning Stage 5, from the always-fabulous PetitesReines - if anyone finds any more, please add it to the comments!
The riders in l'Ardèche had hills to contend with, but on paper, the riders in the Netherlands had a much easier race - 5 flat stages and then only 1 full of hills - you can see more course info in the preview. However, there's nothing easy about Dutch-style racing! Flat it may have been, but what with the wind, rain, cobbles and a peloton packed with wily tactical riders, it was a very tough race. Time bonifications from intermediate and final sprint points are essential in these Dutch sprinty races, so there was no chance to sit back and relax, and with decisive breaks forming within the first 20km, it really was one for the riders with racecraft.
WomensCyling.net have in-depth race reports - with photos - from each stage - and I won't repeat the action from there, because this was a race full of attacks, it would take forever! But as in l'Ardèche, there was one rider who stamped her authority on the race from day 1 - Nederland Bloeit's Marianne Vos. Vos won the 1st and 5th, with 2nd places in Stages 2 & 3, and winning the bunch sprint for 4th on stage 4, and took so many of the intermediate sprint points that she probably didn't need the gap she gained by winning the 6th and final stage as well - 34 more seconds to cement her place as race winner.
Ellen van Dijk (HTC-Highroad) won the ITT on Stage 2, and Vos' team-mate Loes Gunnewijk won solo on Stage 3. On Stage 4 a group of 4 attacked early, and Maaike Polspoel (TopSport Vlaanderen), Linda van Rijen (Skil-Koga) and Trixi Worrack (AA Drink-Leontien.nl) made it right to the end - Van Rijen couldn't keep up as Polspoel and Worrack attacked, and Polspoel won the sprint of 2.
1. Marianne Vos (Ned) Nederland Bloeit, 15:23:14
2. Emma Johansson (Swe) Hitec Products UCK, + 01:41
3. Kirsten Wild (Ned) AA Drink-Leontien.nl, + 01:57
4. Chloe Hosking (Aus) HTC-Highroad, + 05:20
5. Chantal Blaak (Ned) AA Drink-Leontien.nl, + 05:21
6. Joëlle Numainville (Can) TIBCO To The Top, + 06:07
7. Lucinda Brand (Ned) AA Drink-Leontien.nl, + 06:13
8. Loes Gunnewijk (Ned) Nederland Bloeit, + 06:32
9. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Nederland Bloeit, + 09:18
10. Giorgia Bronzini (Ita) Italy, + 09:55
There was so much action in the race - seriously, read the WomensCycling reports! But Vos had it all under control from the start, and took home the sprint and points jerseys - the only one she couldn't win, Best Young Rider, was won by HTC's Chloe Hosking.
Annemiek van Vleuten has some great blogs about the race, and we should see more over the next few days. Hopefully we'll also see more video over time, but here's NOS' video of Stage 5, with interviews with Vos, Van Vleuten and Van Dijk, as well as race action (I love the moment when the peloton sweeps up the escaped rider)
The third UCI-ranked race of the weekend is the Chrono Champenois, a 33.4km individual time trail where the men and women ride exactly the same course, but the men get paid significantly more.
It was a small field, a mix of riders who had skipped the stage racing, started one and dropped out to have some rest before the ITT, or, like Amber Neben and Emma Pooley, ended l'Ardèche yesterday and drove all night for the race today - I love those hardcore riders!
1. Judith Arndt (Ger) HTC-Highroad, 00:45:10
2. Amber Neben (USA) HTC-Highroad, + 00:20
3. Wendy Houvenaghel (GBr) + 00:26
4. Olga Zabelinskaya (Rus) Diadora Pasta Zara, + 00:26
5. Emma Pooley (GBr) Garmin-Cervélo, + 00:43
6. Tara Whitten (Can) TIBCO To The Top, + 00:48
7. Shara Gillow (Aus) Australia, + 00:55
8. Julia Shaw (GBr) + 01:04
9. Evelyn Stevens (USA) HTC-Highroad, + 01:22
10. Pascale Schnider (Swi) Switzerland, + 01:50
It's an interesting set of results, as it gives a notion of form for the Worlds (albeit tired form, for some riders) and also a final opportunity for riders to stake their places in their national teams for the Worlds ITT...
So that leaves one more stage race - the Giro Toscana, in Italy - and then the Worlds, and then in a fortnight's time, the season will be over for another year.