I hope it hasn't escaped anyones attention that this year through the hard work of our in-house wizard Ted, the women's FSA DS competition is connected to the old trusty men's version on the same site. The rules are slightly, slightly different but the basis is the same for those of you who are familiar with the old VDS game. Most importantly, for those of you are signing up to play the men's game that means you can easily put together one more team and double your chances of gaining all-important bragging rights. Simply select Women in the top right corner, name your team and pick your riders.
For those of you who aren't that familiar with the calendar the women race this will familiarize you with it and give you a brief overview of some priorities you might want to consider. Later on we will also look closer at some of the races and give some ideas on riders that might be interesting. But for now, the racing calendar.... follow me after the flip:
First of all, the categories of races are the same as in the men's game. Category 2 consists of the big one day races, for the men that means 5 Monuments plus Worlds/Olympics. The women however still have the World Cup format that the UCI sadly abandoned for the men. All nine of those World Cups are in the Cat 2 so there are buckets of points to be had there. Among the WCs are familiar names such as the Tour of Flanders and Fleche Wallonne which are exemplary in that they run their races parallel with the men, offering a golden opportunity for the women to race in front of the big crowds. There is also the hilly and prestigious Trofeo Alfredo Binda, perhaps the biggest and best organized of all the women's races and the double header in Vårgårda. The weekend of World Cup racing in Sweden offers both a TTT and a sprinter friendly race on Sunday. The WC is really the backbone of the calendar with all the big name riders lining up at the start for just about every race. And when I say all that means all which brings us to a major difference compared with the men's peloton. While there is of course specialization in the women's peloton, you have your sprinters climbers and rouleurs, the differences are decidedly less pronounced and riders are much more allround. Many of the same riders who are prominent in the tough crosswind races in Holland in the spring will also be climbing with the best at the Giro in July. This makes picking your riders that much harder. Or easier, one of the two, who knows.
Category 1 is the major tours. There are three of those here as well on the men's side but they are of course shorter, the UCI does not allow for races longer than 10 stages. The GiroDonne is the biggie here in all aspects. With the decline and fall of other major tours it has emerged as the clearly most prestigious prize for the climbers/stageracers. It has all you would expect of a grand tour, sprint, medium and high mountain stages. A few rungs below the Giro we find the Thüringen Rundfahrt and the revived Route de France. Thüringen is a well established and fantastically well run race that offers very competitive racing but nowhere near as challenging parcours as the Giro, this is a tour for rouleurs rather than pure climbers. How competitive the Route de France will be remains to be seen. Sorely missed in this category is the Tour de l'Aude, the only race to rival the Giro in difficulty these last years but which sadly dropped off the calendar last year. In it's place has emerged the new Tour de Languedoc-Roussillon, put on in the same region as Aude and with some of the same organizers. This race is a shorter Cat 3 this year but perhaps in time it can grow to the same stature as Tour de l'Aude in time.
The Category 3 provides quite a wide array of shorter stageraces like Languedoc-Roussillon. There is the hardfought Energiewacht Tour for the sprinters and hardwomen of the north but also more climby races like Gracia Orlova and Emakumen Bira. Many of the opportunities for the pure sprinters also come in these tours, Tour of Chongming Island for instance draws a strong sprint field as it is run in connection with the World Cup with the same name. There are quite a few races in the Cat 3 but as they are so diverse it's hard to pinpoint a certain rider that is likely to score highly specifically in them. Most interesting race perhaps in the category this year is the new US Exergy Tour, a resurrection of the notoriously hard Ore-Ida Women's Challenge. This may be one of the tougher stageraces of the year and a great showcase for the US peloton, hopefully with some strong European additions as well. One thing to note about the stage races is that while there are quite often timetrials they often aren't quite as decisive as they are in the short stageraces for men. Sure the good TTers can use that to win races but since there is a greater degree of unpredictability even on flat stages that can offset the importance of the time gains in the TTs.
On the opposite end of the predictability scale are the Cat 4 & Cat 5 races that have a distinctly northern bias. Windy, hard and aggressively raced, most of these courses fit the big dutch contingent in the peloton. Much like the northern classics for the men you have a gang of riders that thrive on these selective courses that often end in a small group sprint. Riders like Emma Johansson, Grace Verbeke, Chantal Blaak, Adrie Visser, Loes Gunnevijk and Liesbeth de Wocht can all be counted on to rack up some points here.
And then there is the fun Category 6 that has an array of National calendar races, both stage- and oneday-races. One major group here is the major US stageraces Redlands, Gila, Nature Valley, Cascade and the new kid on the block , Aspen Snowmass. There is also the races of the Coupe de France where there are points to be had for those who can pick out some consistent french top performers. Naturally the points are minor but finding the right low-cost rider for either of these series could be a very good investment.
via ednl on Flickr
Last but not least don't forget when you're picking that this is an Olympic year so there are lots of extra points up for grabs in the Category 2 races. There are both roadraces and TTs in the Olympics and the Valkenburg World Championships and add to that the new team timetrial for tradeteams at Worlds. The Olympics, for better or worse, are the pinnacle of women's racing. The huge importance of it is reflected in the four year cycles that characterize the women's cycling scene. This year we are in the Olympic year with a peak in number of races and teams, next year.....? Well therein lies the challenge for the UCI, to help create the conditions that could make those stick around for the three years in between Olympic years, something they can't be said to have done in the past. The olympic focus will also probably mean a more open season as many of the top tier riders plan their season around London, leaving opportunities for many others in some of the other races on the calendar. Similarly, with the Worlds held in the Netherlands it will be even more important than usual for top riders as Vos and van Vleuten and that may change the dynamic too.
Photos by : Sarah Connolly & E. Dronkert