RaboSter Zeeuwsche Eilanden: 14th-16th June 2012
Giro del Trentino Alto Adige - Südtirol: 16th-17th June 2012
This weekend is the one when the European peloton traditionally splits in half, with the sprinters in the Netherlands and the climbers in Italy. This year it's a lot less climby than usual, but the racing will be spectacular, and RaboSter is one of the easiest women's races to follow, as they have an excellent website, and Dutch tv covers it all. I'll tell you about both races below the jump - including how to follow them in real time - starting with a quick video from yesterday's opening RaboSter:
I love the RaboSter! We're back in Zeeland, islands on the far south-east coast of the Netherlands, an area that loves cycling, especially women's racing. This is the home of the Omloop van Borsele, which includes a junior girls' stage race, so it's familiar territory for the peloton.
The area is pancake-flat, with the only climbs being onto sea-walls and bridges (their route profiles - looks like it's tough, until you realise the highest point is 5m!). But if you're thinking of writing it off as boring, don't - Dutch women's racing is tough as hell, especially here. Because the land is so flat, and right by the North Sea, they're at the mercy of the weather - it's always windy, with sand blowing across the roads, and often rainy. And even without that, Dutch-style racing is brutal, if you lose position, you've lost everything, and you tend to get riders attacking at every possible opportunity, especially with the intermediate sprint points giving time bonifications towards the GC. I love it!
This race is so easy to love because they really care about us fans. Their website is a lot of fun, with live-tickers for each stage, photos, and it's always updated super-fast. So, who's racing, and where are they going?
Well, RaboBank may be without last year's winner Marianne Vos and Annemiek van Vleuten, but their sprint-team is super-strong, with Iris Slappendel as the one to watch, supported by Sarah Düster & Liesbet de Vocht - and it'll be interesting to see how Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, as this isn't her usual territory at all!
Skil-Argos are lead by Adrie Visser, who should definitely end up on the podium, and young talent Amy Pieters; there are TWO Australian national teams, with GreenEdge-AIS' Melissa Hoskins moonlighting in the green & gold of the Australian National Team, and the Jayco AIS team bringing the track riders for some pre-Olympic road racing; and both TopSport Vlaanderen and the Belgian National Team should also be in the mix. I'll also be looking out for Dolmans-Boels, and especially Martine Bras, who is just getting back to form after a really nasty accident in March messed up her season. I'm hoping she's back on top, because she's a generous rider who deserves nothing but good things.
But all eyes should be on AA Drink-Leontien.nl, who have a crazy team, with two superstar sprinters in the form of Kirsten Wild and Lizzie Armitstead. Wild won the race in 2006 and 2010, and is the queen of this kind of sprinting - I'm assuming we'll be seeing their tactic of Armitstead in escapes, Wild in the bunch, which has worked beautifully all year.
Obviously there are more riders, but those are my picks - you can see the rest of the startlist on the site.
Stage 1 was a 5km ITT, around the town of Middelburg, the same technical course as last year, fast and furious, won by Slappendel, who's on superb form at the moment, after a couple of years plagued by injuries
1. Iris Slappendel (Ned) Rabobank, 00:06:18.76
2. Amy Pieters (Ned) Skil-Argos, + 00:04.30
3. Jessie Maclean (Aus) Australia, + 00:04.33
4. Anna van der Breggen (Ned) Sengers Ladies Team, + 00:05.33
5. Lizzie Armitstead (GBr) AA Drink-Leontien.nl, + 00:08.68
6. Rixt Maijer (Ned) People's Trust - Noordwesthoek, + 00:09.64
7. Kirsten Wild (Ned) AA Drink-Leontien.nl, + 00:09.99
8. Sarah Düster (Ger) Rabobank, + 00:11.03
9. Liesbet Devocht (Bel) Rabobank, + 00:11.04
10. Adrie Visser (Ned) Skil-Argos, + 00:11.20
Stage 2 is an evening race, 105.6km from Middleburg to Vlissingen, out over dykes and cobbley roads, with sections along the sea-front, which should be beautiful, but challenging.
Stage 3, on Saturday, is the longest, at 131.2km - it runs out from Westkappelle before running in a loop taking in some beautiful, long bridges before coming back in, and running twice around a lap that includes the sea-front again.
It should be a great race - and look out for video every day! And as a final bonus, if you're wondering how to pronounce the race name, here's our very own SuperTed saying it for us! Now you know!
This is a race that has really been through the wringer this year. For the past few years it's been a three-day race, and that was the plan this year too, but they had big financial issues, and had to drop a day from the programme, although they've kept to three stages.
It's so good to see them save the race that I can forgive them for moving away from the glory days of when this was the race riders spent all day riding up Alps. You have to love a race with profiles like this one and this one in 2010, and previous years had similar fun times. This year, we start and finish high up, and although it's bumpy, it's nowhere near as hard as it has been.
It's 99km, starting in Trento and running out along west side of the Aldige rider, then back along the other side, finishing with a loop around Mezzolombardo. The highest climb is 200m, and it looks like a stage that will encourage break groups, being chased back over the long, flat run-in
The morning starts with 63km, in 4 laps around Sarnonico, and again, although we're high up (and that may effect riders), the climb is under 200m. They'll race that, have lunch, and then get back on the bikes
The last stage in an ITT, just 5km, on using similar roads, but flat. If the previous two races have turned into sprints, this is where the GC will be decided, but if there have been break groups, the distance is so short, it may not effect the overall race - we'll know more tomorrow!
The startlist here is full of riders who deserve mountains, but who will attack like mad anyway - GreenEdge-AIS are full of stars, and Judith Arndt starts as defending champion, while Amanda Spratt, Shara Gillow and Lida Villumsen will attack at the smallest provocation; MCipollini-Giambenini have Tatiana Guderzo for breakaways and Monia Baccaille for sprints; AA Drink-Leontien.nl send a team lead by Emma Pooley, who won in 2010, when there definitely were mountains; Noemi Cantele should like this race, for Be Pink; Nicole Cooke and Rochelle Gilmore will be looking to shine for Faren-Honda, but I think it's Specialized-lululemon who will be the team to beat, with the combination of Evie Stevens and Trixi Worrack, who are a formidable pairing, with Chloe Hosking and the sprint support, if it ends in a bunch
So, lot of racing in Europe! Check the comments for the usual videos, tweets and blogs we find as the races progress - good luck and have fun, everyone who's riding!