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Ten women's races you should follow in 2012!

Recently Jens told you about the women's calendar from an FSA DS perspective (& this year, I hope I remembered to pick riders who will win in France and the USA...), but with the first round of the women's Road world Cup taking place on Saturday, I wanted to talk about the calendar from an awesomeness perspective - which races I am already ridiculously over-excited about! Of course, this is just from my perspective, and if you disagree, or are looking forward to other races, please add them to the comments!

1. Ronde van Drenthe, 10th March 2012, Netherlands, World Cup

This year the race has moved from the April slot it has sat in for the last few years, to open the Road World Cup season. It's a gorgeous race, perfect for Podium Café - here's Vicki Whitelaw's description before last year's race

The Dutch cobbles are sharper and more brutal than those in Ronde Van Vlanderen. Because many are within the forest tracks, they remain in the shade for a majority of the day so are usually mossy and lovely and slippery! Bring it on!

In addition, it has some thigh-burning climbs over the VAMberg, a former municipal dump that's been grassed over, with roads at 9% & 11%. Read more about the parcours in Monty's 2011 race preview, and here's video of 2010's race, absolutely full of attacks and gorgeous cycling! I do feel for Cervélo, with 3 riders in that final break - but watch out for Loes Gunnewijk's tactical genius - I love this race! Part 1:

and part 2:

It's such a great race, it's giving me goosebumps thinking about it - and it's part of a big cycling festival, with three races for the elite women - the Drentse 8 van Dwingeloo on Thursday and the Novilon Eurocup Ronde van Drenthe on Sunday, both back up to UCI 1.1 status this year - and a 2.1 men's race. The weather may play more of a part this year than last, but expect to see all the breakaway queens, the suicide attackers and everyone with their eye on the World Cup title out in force - cross your fingers for live streaming!

More information via the race website and last year's post-race thread, with last year's video!


2. Trofeo Alfredo Binda, 25th March 2012, Italy, World Cup

It's strange not to have the World Cup starting in Italy this year, but the second race of the season, the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, is always well-worth watching!

There's so much to love about this race - it's got a great hilly parcours (check out Monty's fabulous preview) that inspires riders (generally Emma Pooley) to attack like lunatics, it can be (and has been) won in all kinds of ways, from solo attacks, escape groups, bunch sprints of elite riders who can make it to the end.... and it's usually streamed live!! I'm smiling just thinking about it! Here's last year's race, in some really nasty weather - part 1, part 2 - watch the right-hand side of the road from about 17:35 for a killer attack!

part 3 and part 4.

It's the same parcours as last year, which you can see described in detail - with a video representation! - in Monty's 2011 preview - and there's more information on the race website & in last-year's post-race thread (check the comments for lots of blogs, and links to more videos we found!) Here's a video to whet your appetite, of Italian National Road and ITT Champion Noemi Cantele previewing the course in the snow:


3. Ronde van Vlaanderen, 1st April 2012, Belgium, World Cup

Oh Flanders, your cobbles and your hills, and your Classics perfection!

Unlike the men, the women's course starts and finishes in Oudenaarde, and while it misses out the Molenberg and the Koppenberg (boo!) it includes Oude-Kwaremont, Hoogberg and the Paterberg among the nine climbs. You can compare the women's parcours to the men's - but whatever the course, this is a race that every woman in the peloton would love to win, so expect attacks aplenty.

In 2010, Grace Verbeke won it in a solo attack (a Flandrian on a Belgian team!) , and last year it was a perfect race for Nederland Bloeit - Sarah Düster had escaped and made it right to the penultimate kilometres, where she was caught by a small but perfectly formed chase group.... that had her team-mates Annemiek van Vleuten and Marianne Vos in it, demonstrating why they are SUCH a good team - when Tatiana Antoshina attacked in the final 3k, Van Vleuten chased, while the others dithered, not sure whether to follow and lead Vos to the line, or risk letting the pair go - and before they could decide, Van Vleuten had won the race! Gorgeous cycling - and every year, it seems, a fantastic story! This year, Nederland Bloeit are the Rabobank women's team... can they repeat last year's glory?

Here's a race clip from last year:

And on-bike footage from AA (from around the 2:35 point):


4. Elsy Jacobs weekend , 27th-29th April, Luxembourg, UCI 1.1

I adore the Elsy Jacobs races. To me, they're the end of the Classics season, and the start of the stage racing - and they're a success story in this world where every year, more women's races vanish. They are named after Elsy Jacobs, the first ever winner of the UCI's women's road World Champs in 1958, and they've expanded from a single race to 2 day races utilising the same major hilly loop (with separate hilly laps of Mamur and Garnich), and a city centre Team Time Trial. the women don't have many of these, so it will be interesting to see what the teams are looking like, ready for the World Champs TTT.

Last year, I was lucky enough to go along to the races, courtesy of Horizon Fitness (now Matrix Prendas), and you can see my photos and videos from the weekend - but don't think I'm biased because of that - it's because the races are so good that I went! It's a sad time, the end of the Classics season, but the Luxembourg race organisers really know how to put on a final flourish that riders enjoy riding and people love to watch!


5. Emakumeen Bira, 7th - 10th June, Spain, UCI 2.1

After the Classics comes a mini Spanish season for the women, with the GP Valladolid World Cup, Durango-Durango Emakumeen Sarria, and the first of the summer stage races - Emakumeen Bira.

You may have guessed from the name that this is a race in the Basque Country - and of course, that means hills! Emakumeen Bira is usually 4 stages over 3 days - one of which has a steep uphill time trial in the morning and a hilly road race in the afternoon. There isn't a route available for this year, but check out Monty's preview of last year's race - if it's anything like previous years, it's hot, mountainous and hard. Last year it provided the first hints that Marianne Vos had her sights on the mountainous races, and while this year the riders will have one eye on the Olympics, it will still be a good chance to start contemplating this year's Giro Donne....


6. Raboster Zeeuwsche Eilanden/ Giro del Trentino, 14th - 16th/15th-17th June, Netherlands/Italy, UCI 2.2/2.1

This weekend has something for everyone - two fantastic races, splitting the peloton into climbers and sprinters.

Raboster is the flat race - but what it lacks in hills, it makes up for with all the hallmarks of tough Dutch racing - cobbles, sand and lots and lots of wind coming off the North Sea. It's a tough race, and the kind that's perfect for women's racing - expect echelons, attacks, tactical genius and more attacks. It has a fantastic website, with a live ticker that must be complete hell to keep up, as it's generally crazy racing every day. Two stages and an ITT in one of those beautiful parts of the Netherlands that have been reclaimed from the sea, where they love their women's cycling... It's slightly less fun for those riders who haven't grown up with the ruthless tactics of Dutch sprinting, but this race really shows how amazing sprinters' races can be!

While the sprinters' teams are in the Netherlands, the climbers are having their own version of fun in the Alps. Again, the parcours aren't out yet, but I'm hoping for a return to the 2009 and 2010 races (in 2009, one stage basically started at the bottom of an Alp, and didn't stop until it hit the top - in '10, they did a similar thing, but rode down again, in a race that had a perfect pyramid profile. Last year it missed that kind of insanity - Monty surmised that they were building a parcours that suited local star Rossella Callovi, and it ended up being perfect for Judith Arndt to win - but even without diagonal course profiles, it's still a fabulous race


7. Giro Donne, 29th June-8th July, Italy, UCI 2.1

This is the biggest race of the year - the only 10-day stage race that the women get to ride - their only equivalent of a Grand Tour. It's always incredible, with fireworks, mountains, crazy stages, beautiful scenery, and of course, fantastic racing. Last year it was a duel between Emma Pooley and Marianne Vos - the year before it was Pooley versus Team USA's Mara Abbott... is this year Pooley's chance to win the race?

I could rhapsodise about this one for hours... days... weeks... but you're probably better off checking out our coverage from last year's race for a proper idea, or the video from each stage, courtesy of Cycling Fever.... I think my favourite stage was 3, the "Classics" stage, with some killer climbs and breath-taking descents - but we're sure to talk a lot more about the race once the course is announced, and as it grows closer... I can't wait!

8. Olympic Games, 29th July & 1st August, United Kingdom, JO

I don't know if you've heard of this little race happening in London, as part of something called the Olympics? Of course, it's a shame that the women will only climb Box Hill three times, so it'll probably end up as even more of a sprint-from-small-break than the men's race - and I still wish they'd designed the course around the skills of Emma Pooley and Nicole Cooke rather than Cav's.... but it will still be a lot of fun. Expect some polemica among who gets picked to race for certain countries (especially for the ITT...) - and a LOT of competition! There are all kinds of riders who have been talking about retiring after this year (Teutenberg, Arndt maybe - but hopefully they'll have changed their minds by now!) and those who have dropped the track to focus on this race (Vos, Bronzini, Armitstead) - the Olympics are always an enormous deal for the women, and they'll be putting everything into this race!


9. GP de Plouay, 25th August, France, World Cup

It's a bitter-sweet moment, Plouay. The end of the World Cup for another year, but a superb race, part of a three-day cycling festival with the women's and men's races, sportif and lots of local celebrations. It's also one of the few women's races we get to see (touch wood) live. It's a brutal race, with those killer hills and riders who love them (and those who curse them with every lap!), with everyone going all-out for the final chance at World Cup points. Check out the videos from 2010 (where Emma Pooley caught the 3 best riders in the world off-guard) and 2011 (where it looked like Pooley would do the same again... until Marianne Vos' extraordinary attack from the chase group & ride to get Annemiek van Vleuten into the perfect position for this end-game below) - it makes me so happy! I hate that it's a sign of the season finishing, but it's a beautiful way to go!


10. World Championships, 18th, 22nd & 16th September, Netherlands, CM

And finally..... to Valkenburg, where every Dutch rider will be longing for victory on home soil, and everyone else will be determined to stop them. We'll start with the TTT and ITT before the Road Race, all around the Limburg hills... and we do mean hills! This is going to be a killer race - can the Italians take the rainbow jersey for a fourth year in a row? Or can their superb, opportunistic tactics finally be beaten? More importantly.... anyone fancy a Podium Café meetup for the Worlds? It should be a sea of orange, and an immense experience!


So those are ten of the races I'll be waiting for... of course I've missed Classics like Flèche Wallonne and the lovely Dutch races like EnergieWachtTour and the next-biggest stage race, Thüringen Rundfahrt, which has a very special place in my heart.... but what will you be looking out for? Is there anything you'd like to know more about? Add your races, and tell me why I'm wrong (or right!) in the comments!