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Race thread: EnergieWacht Tour 2012 - the first European women's stage race of the year!

EnergieWacht Tour: 4th-8th April 2012

In this age of men's and women's races disappearing from the calendar, the EnergieWacht Tour (aka Van Lauwerszee tot Dollard Tour) warms my heart - there used to be a 1-day race, the Omloop door Middag Humsterland, and then last year it expanded into this four-day stage race, showing other, more established races how to get an army of happy, engaged, excited fans, with tv coverage, a great website, a fantastic twitter and much more. This year it expanded again - up to 6 stages over 5 days - a real sign of success. This is what Dutch racing is all about for me - tough, explosive racing, with the organisers celebrating everything they can. Can't wait! We'll follow the race as it happens in the comments.

EnergieWacht's six stages are all in Groningen Province, in the far north-east of the Netherlands. The first thing you should know about the Dutch stage racing is that to make them more exciting, especially when the stages are flat, they have intermediate sprint bonifications that contribute to the GC. The other big obstacles in this part of the world are wind, cobbles, and the fact that this style of racing calls for huge skills. Riders at the back, and even in the middle of the peloton continually risk being echelon-ed out of the race - but moving up in the pack requires some serious skills, especially for riders who haven't grown up in the Dutch systems, doing this every weekend since they were 6 years old! And then, if they DO get up to the front, riders attack pretty much all the time, death-or-gladioli style, so it's exhausting! Don't believe me? Check out some of the blogs from last year - from established racer Vicki Whitelaw (I miss her not riding!) and Alison Starnes (who was racing here for the first time, and didn't love it) - and Kathryn Bertine's tweet:

I cannot begin to describe what racing in Holland's wind is like. But for starters, I'd rather put my legs in a blender.

But I wouldn't want to give you the idea it's all pain - for those at the pointy end of the race, it can be exhilarating - and every rider who does well here knows they absolutely deserve it!

The route has changed this year, to share the love around the area, the biggest changes being adding a Team Time Trial and starting with an Individual Time Trial....

Stage 1 - Wednesday 4th April - Appingedam, 15.01km ITT

Another note - you should definitely click through the stage links, because they take you to great descriptions of the places the race goes through, and make the area sound completely charming! They'll tell you all about the history and culture of the area, and make you think you have to plan a Dutch holiday some time very soon!


It's a simple course - out through the fields, back along the river. The wind should make a difference, and it's long enough to give us some good gaps on GC, but (hopefully) not so long it will mean whoever wins this takes the race.


Stage 2 - Thursday 5th April - Bad Nieuweschans, 107.3km


The race starts and finishes right on the German border, in a town known for its healing hot springs - which the riders might need, after racing four laps of the circuit! The broken line on the map is the border - so they ride out through Germany, crossing back into the Netherlands half-way round, before racing right up the border. It's completely flat again, with the sprint points being the start/finish line


Stage 3 - Friday 6th April - Oldambt- algemeen, 110.4


This course was used on Stage 2 last year - but we're up from 5 to 6 laps this year, all around a giant lake. Last year, you guessed it, the wind made it very hard. Here's the video, to give you an idea:


Stage 4a - Saturday 7th April - Winsum, 76.6km


The riders will get up in the morning for a brisk 5 laps linking local villages around Winsum - it looks sprinty - and then they're onto


Stage 4b - Saturday 7th April - Veendam-Pekela, 26.5km TTT


With a trade-team Team Time Trial in the Road World Championships this year, it's good that there have been more chances to see the teams in action. This is the first one of the year for the women - and it looks like there are some technical sections that will show us how well the teams can work together.


Stage 5 - Sunday 8th April - Meerstad-Slochteren, 103.2km


The final stage, and we're on laps of a course again - three laps this time, and look at those long, straight roads - it'll be the teams that can use the wind who can get away today - and riders caught behind will be able to see exactly how far back they are.


So that's the course - who'll be riding?

We're still waiting to hear if Marianne Vos will be well enough to ride this one (Edit! She is!) but even without her, Rabobank will have riders who could devastate this race - Iris Slappendel and Liesbet de Vocht Sarah Düster, who were made for this kind of racing, and Annemiek van Vleuten, who always does well in these kinds of races

Last year's winner, Adrie Visser, will be definitely one to watch. Last year she was part of HTC-Highroad's practically unstoppable sprint-team, and had stages in the lead-out train, as well as the stage where she got into an elite group, and outsprinted Loes Gunnewijk for the win that gave her the GC. This year she's definitely the lead rider of Skil-Argos - and her results so far this year show that she's definitely up for the challenge.

As for HTC, their team is back as Specialized-lululemon. Last year, Ina-Yoko Teutenberg won Stage 2 and came second on Stage 1. This year, she's started her season later than usual, and has her eyes on the Olympics, so this is the first real chance to see her form. The team is as strong as ever - look out for Ellen van Dijk and Trixi Worrack - with Clara Hughes getting her first taste of this kind of racing for a long time!

Then there's AA - with another über-sprinter, Kirsten Wild, and Lizzie Armitstead, with Chantal Blaak there to try to escape. Yet again, a super-strong team - and again, it'll be interesting to see how they work. Both Wild and Armitstead are highly capable of winning sprints here - and I'd imagine they'll use the tactic of Lizzie-out-in-a-break and Kirsten sitting on the chasers - and you can usually guarantee Wild will grace the podium on races like this!

Greenedge-AIS don't seem to have a "pure" sprinter in their line-up, but Loes Gunnewijk will attack like crazy, making everyone else chase her, and is a tactical genius - and you just know the team will work well together. Don't discount any of these riders!

Other riders to watch out for - Rochelle Gilmore (Faren-Honda) who'll be going all out to try to secure a place on the Australian Olympic team; Megan Guarnier (Tibco), Joëlle Numainville (Canada) and Theresa Cliff-Ryan and Team USA showing Europe what North American racing is all about.

Edit! If you want to find out who your FSA DS team is fielding in this race, use the handy tool - thanks Ed for making it, and Civetta for pointing it out!


How to follow the race

One of the many reasons I love this race is because they make this really easy! There's tv on regional channel RTL7 - and last year they put it on their website. Here's their schedule (in CEST, of course). Last year they had a live ticker - but you can follow the race through their website - and they're bound to keep us updated through Twitter!

We'll be talking about the race in the comments, I hope - last year they were full of links to videos and blogs, with screenshots - so anything you see, or anything you want to know.... ask away!