16th-22nd July 2012
The Giro Donne was spectacular, and the Olympics are only just around the corner, but the women's peloton isn't pausing for breath, as we have two more stage races this week. We start off in East Germany, with the 25th edition of one of my favourite races of the year, Thüringen. It's organised by an ex pro rider, so it gives the riders, and us, everything we need - hills, cobbled starts and finishes, liveticker and a whole load of different media to follow it on. I'll tell you more about it below the jump, and give you the results of the Tour de Bretagne and the Dwars door Westhoek, but to get you in the mood, here's the Thüringen preview mini-video:
Thüringen Rundfahrt, Germany, 16th-22nd July
I have a huge soft spot for this race. I went to it last year (you can read about my adventures, with videos embedded in each report) and it's superbly organised, the easiest stage race on the calendar in terms of logistics. All the teams are housed in one hotel, so there are no transfers; the team buses can roll up, sort out water and electricity for the week and they're done; there's a huge supermarket nearby to make the soigneurs' life much easier; and the only downside is that the hotel internet suffers from an entire peloton trying to log on at the same time!
Each stage comes to a different town in Thüringen, where the day's race starts and finishes - and with the route passing through mid-race as well, and there being stalls and entertainment set up, there's a lot to encourage spectators to stay for the whole day, so the crowds are very enthusiastic. It's no wonder the race is run so smoothly - the organising team is lead by Vera Hohlfeld, a former cyclist whose superb palmares included winning the Nürnberger World Cup and coming fourth in the 1996 Olympic Road Race, so she knows what to do to keep bike riders, teams and fans happy!
There's everything you need to make following this one simple - a really informative website, with lots of photos, information and a liveticker for each stage. Last year, each stage had video from local German tv station MDR.de and also from the race organisers. There's loads to see too - I'm guessing this year, sprint superstar Robert Förstermann won't be there to podiumboy in his rainbow jersey, when the race comes to his hometown, as he'll be in London already - but there are always great crowds, even in the rain, and the terrain invites exciting racing. If nothing else, the sight of the non-German riders tasting the strong local beers they get on the podium every day always makes for great photos!
So, what will they be racing?
Prologue: Zwickau, 16th July, 3:3km
It's a short, but technical ITT to start off with, including a 50m climb and descent, through the streets of Zwickau, a former mining town and birth-place of composer Robert Schumann.
As with all stages, you can follow the route on Google maps vis the stage page as it twists through the streets, has a section up and down the same street, then across the river, up and down a wooded hill, then back to the town square for the finish. It's short, so don't expect huge time gaps, but it will be where riders like Judith Arndt, who are after the GC win, will set down their markers.
Stage 1: Rund um Neustadt/Orla, Tuesday 17th July, 114.1km
As you can see from the map, this stage is loopy and hilly - starting in Neustadt an der Orla, then out over the hills to Ranis, where there's a big loop big loop, and back on the same road (and hills) to a loop starting and finishing in Neustadt, with some technical corners towards the steep downhill finish.
With it starting with a climb, this stage looks good for the breakaway artists, although the descent and smaller climbs could provide a good chance for riders to catch up with escapees. This should really set the GC competition alight.
Stage 2: Rund um Schleiz, Wednesday 18th July, 103.7km
Like Stage 3 last year, which was won by Amanda Miller from a breakaway in the rain, this one starts and finishes in Schleiz, but whereas last year's route ran north of the town, this one runs south.
It goes out from Schleiz, round a big loop that runs around a reservoir and twisting river and through forests, then back to the town, and for a 27km loop ending on the same roads. It's not as hilly as Stage 1, but keep an eye on all the profiles for the Y axes - they could be deceptive!
Linda Villumsen won, when the race took this route in 2009, coming in solo, so it suggests escapes. That gave her the lead, and she went on to win the whole race - will it be as significant this time round?
Stage 3: Rund um Greiz, Thursday 19th July, 128.4km
It's not so far from the team hotel, starting and finishing in Greiz (which has not one, but two castles!) before running up through Gera, where Ina-Yoko Teutenberg won Stage 1 last year, looping round though farmland and forests, then back through Greiz for a final 12km loop, on similar roads to last year's Greiz stage, when Emma Johansson won from a small group. It's one of the less hilly stages, though certainly not flat, and the longest stage in the race - this could be the best chance for the sprint teams to show us what they've got.
Last year, the podium man/woman were in medieval dress, so hopefully this year will be as fun and photogenic!
Stage 4: Altenburg ITT, Friday 20th July, 20.7km
Altenburg is a lovely town, with a huge cobbled market square with lovely buildings, that last year was completely packed with people. It's also the hometown of the Altenburger brewery, which sponsors the race, so there was a great party atmosphere!
This year, it should be just as fun and atmospheric, as it's home of the second ITT. That's great for the riders, as the team hotel is just a short walk from the start/finish line, so everything's simple for recovering the next day.
They might need that, too. The route starts on slatey cobbles, and goes up and down through and out of the town on a long, straight road, going generally uphill, on a loop through farmland that looks like it could be very windy - then down the other side of the hill, back along the same road into town, where it takes a sharp corner and the same little narrow cobbled alleyway as the Altenburg stage last year, before finishing again on the Markt. This one could make or break the GC - and we should definitely be watching out for the Olympic ITT hopefuls here.
Stage 5: Rund um Schmölln, Saturday 21st July, 101.5km
Last year, Schmölln hosted the ITT stage, and the final 19km loop follows the ITT course they used then - hilly, technical, and I saw it from the Garmin-Cervélo team car, behind Emma Pooley! It includes the Wall of Meerane, 400m at 23%!
Before the get there, it's out for a loop, then back for three and a half laps of the circuit - it should be a great one for spectators, the Markt is very pretty, with lots of places for delicious kafe und kuchen.
The climbs are no bigger than 70m, but they're steep and thigh-biting, with some sharp corners at the bottom. This could be the stage for any riders who lost time on the ITT to try to make it up..
Stage 6: Rund um Zeulenroda-Triebes, Sunday 22nd July, 106km
The final stage is the queen stage - four laps of the same 21km loop that includes the Dörtendorfer Berg, 1.5km long, at 14%, and also known as Hanka-berg, for the local heroine, Hanka Kupfernagel.
It's a narrow, slightly uphill finish too, and last year it was cold windy (I learned that the women's peloton smells of liniment!) and Emma Pooley won that one in a solo attack. That only had two climbs of the Hanka-berg, so this should be even harder - and with no Pooley here this year, we'll get to see who else is feeling mountain-goaty.
It's going to be a hard stage, so it should keep the race for the GC exciting right to the end.
All stage profiles via www.thueringenrundfahrt-frauen.de
As I said, Emma Pooley's not on the startlist, and neither is Marianne Vos - but we still have a cast of stars here. The official startlist starts with last year's winner, Emma Johansson, who got stronger and stronger with every day of the Giro Donne, until she won the final stage, supported by Elisa Longo Borghini, the Giro's Best Young Rider and a lovely Hitec Products-Mistral Home team.
There are more superb Germans in Specialized-lululemon, who'll be riding for sprint wins for Ina-Yoko Teutenberg, and, I hope, Trixi Worrack to contest the GC. Last year Worrack won the Most Aggressive jersey pretty much every day, and she's having a great year, but it could be Amber Neben who's team leader - and it should answer on of the big questions of the Giro - is Teute having problems, or lying low before the Olympics? If that's not enough, Clara Hughes will make the race a lot of fun, and be killing it in the ITTs.
Lizzie Armitstead won Stage 6 last year, and I hope she's over her horrible Giro bladder infection, and can take another stage here, but the AA Drink-Leontien.nl GC hope will be Sharon Laws - and I'm hoping that not only does she have a great, attacking race, but Marijn de Vries can also get online to blog all about it!
It will be interesting to see how Rabobank do without Marianne Vos or Annemiek van Vleuten - and the most local rider of the race, Hanka Kupfernagel will be wanting to make an impact for RusVelo. BePink and MCipollini-Giambenini always attack like crazy - and last year, Skil-Argos' Amy Pieters won Best Young Rider and came sixth - can she improve on that this year?
You'll have to imagine all the riders who don't have good internet deals on their phones clustered on the sofas at the tops of each flight of stairs in all their free moments, trying to get on the internet. That's the photo I didn't dare take last year, but really wanted to! And imagine our own Bec* out at the race, having an excellent time. Have an Altenburger for me, Bec*!
But before next week's racing starts, on to this week's results.
Tour de Bretagne, 12th-15th July
When we talk about the French women's races, there's always a theme - if you want to know more, go to Gwéna, who is the best source for all things French. She's a passionate fan, who finds all the best information, and her website has daily reports with photos of every Bretagne stage, with lots of great photos.
I'm not going to even try to repeat what Gwéna's already done so well, but this race was all about a new young rider who's really taken a step up this year. Anna van der Breggen rides for Sengers, which is one of the smallest UCI-ranked teams, after a few years on other small local Dutch teams - and she's had great results, coming 9th in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, 12th at Flèche Wallonne and 20th in the Giro, where she was riding for the Dutch National Team. She should definitely be down on your list of riders to watch out for next year, as she's bound to be snapped up by one of the big teams. It's not as if she came out of nowhere, either - she was 5th in the 2005 Junior World Championships - I wouldn't be at all surprised if she was picked up as a staigiare for the September races...
Anyway, Van der Breggen stamped her mark on this race, when she won Stage 1 from a 2-woman sprint with Sofie de Vuyst, and then won the Stage 2 ITT over Alexandra Burchenkova and Aude Biannic. Stage 3 was won by by Roxane Fournier of BigMat over De Vuyst and Christine Majerus, in a bunch sprint, that kept AvdB's lead untouched - and then today it was back to normal, Van der Breggen winning the final stage 9 seconds ahead of Paulina Bentkowska-Brzezna, with Audrey Cordon winning the bunch sprint for third.
1. Anna van der Breggen (Ned) Sengers, 9:20:04
2. Sofie de Vuyst (Bel) Lotto Belisol, + 02:49
3. Aude Biannic (Fra) France,+ 03:13
4. Grete Treier (Est) Michela Fanini, + 03:31
5. Christine Mejerus (Lux) GSD, + 03:37
6. Audrey Cordon (Fra) Vienne Futuroscope, + 03:38
7. Martina Ruzickova (Rus) Michela Fanini, + 04:21
8. Paulina Brzezna (Pol) DVH, 05:05
9. Alexandra Burchenkova (Rus) Michela Fanini, + 05:24
10. Edwige Pitel (Fra) France, + 05:47
Dwars Door de Westhoek, 15th July
This is a nice little 1.2 Belgian race that's been going for three years - won by Liesbet de Vocht in 2010 and Grace Verbeke last year. It was four loops of a circuit, and another Dutch rider, Kim de Baat took the win, ahead of another young Dutchwoman who's been having a great year, Laura van der Kamp
1. Kim de Baat (Ned) Wimi Games CT Ladies Team, 3:19:04
2. Laura van der Kamp (Ned) Dolmans-Boels, s.t.
3. Martina Zwick (Ger) Koga Ladies, s.t.
4. Kelly Druyts (Bel) TopSport Vlaanderen, s.t.
5. Evelyn Arys (Bel) Kleo Ladies Team, s.t.
6. Lensy Debboudt (Bel) Keukens Redant, s.t.
7. Martine Bras (Ned) Dolamns-Boels, s.t.
8. Miriam Bjørnsrud (Nor) Hitec, s.t
9. Celine van Severen (Bel) Sengers, s.t.
10. Silke Kogelman (Ned) GRC Jan van Arkel, s.t.
Anything else we find about those races - and about Thüringen, of course - will go into comments, so check back often!