Now, I know some of these races we don't have much video for, so when you nominate, if you'd like to put links to the videos etc that we did have, so other people can see them, that'd be great. You can find them in the race thread comments, and in the post-race articles here on the Café, or you can remind yourself with the superb video page at Cycling Fever. Or if you can't find any, I'll link to what I found for you.
So, as in the men's nominations thread, we're talking race days, so we can compare like with like. Well, except for maybe my first choice. Back in January it was cold, dark and rainy in the UK, and the cycling news was non-stop He Who Must Not Be Named, doping allegations and general depression.... until suddenly we found we could watch live women's cycling, and I remembered exactly why I love this sport!
1. Tour of Qatar
My favourite description of the women's Tour of Qatar comes from Dutch Classics specialist Iris Slappendel in 2010:" "If you imagine the sand to be grass, and the camels to be cows, it's just like racing at home"! And when she means it's like racing in the Netherlands, she means the racing is non-stop attacking, using the wind to cause chaos and an endless battle between the breakaway types and the bunch sprinters. On Stage 1, Gracie Elvin (ORICA-AIS), Chloe Hosking (Hitec), Lisa Brennauer (Specialized-lululemon) and Liesbet de Vocht (Rabobank-Liv/Giant) had escaped and fought to the finish, with Hosking taking the win and the lead, and that was a lot of fun to watch... but then on Stage 2, the queen of Dutch sprinting entered the mix, in her first race for new team Argos-Shimano - Kirsten Wild! Here are the last 4 kilometres:
This was such an amazing piece of racing, combining strength and tactics, just genius. ORICA had got five of their six riders into the final break of ten, so on paper it should have been a win for them, and with two of the others being Spec-lulu's Trixi Worrack and Ellen van Dijk, you'd think they would have a chance too. But damn, Wild was just too strong, chasing down every attack - and there were so many of them! Wild and Van Dijk powered on the front to keep the pace as high as they could, and every time an ORICA would leap off the front, or streak ahead from the back of the group, Wild would be onto them, with Van Dijk and Worrack on her wheel. Such power! Such aggression! I was watching this surreptitiously at work, trying not to yell out loud, it was a masterclass in how skills can beat numbers. And then, on Stage 3, she did it all over again!
I'm just going to be over here, grinning like a lunatic, and re-living how it felt! If you want more detail - and the highlights videos and last kms vids from all 4 stages, click through to the race report, because if I don't stop now, I'll be rhapsodising all night. The endless attacks and the do-or-die spirit exemplifies women's sprint races for me, and I do have a wry grin about the fact Al Jazeera showed us more live women's cycling than the British and American tv stations did...
2. Road World Cup #2 - Trofeo Alfredo Binda
The second World Cup is one of my favourites every time, because the course - one big loop through Varese, and then four laps of a loop with a wicked climb, and it's streamed live on RAI, so we can watch it too, with a livethread. Here's the highlights, and the hour-long video is in the race report.
What I loved about this one was the way it rewrote the script I imagined for this race. Elisa Longo Borghini had previewed the race for us at the Café, and having come third in the 2013 Worlds, and with this being her "home" race (she grew up on the other side of Lake Maggiore), she was always going to try hard, but she'd been injured, and had to chase back to the group after she punctured on the loop, so when she escaped on the second lap, with Amanda Spratt (who was on her 3rd? 4th? 25th attack of the day), I was delighted for her, but expected her to be caught and then the attrition to kick in, and it come down to fireworks on the final lap.... and isn't it great to be wrong sometimes?
Spratty and ELB raced solo, and despite the mammoth chasing, the bunch couldn't catch them, even though the pair's lead never really got above a minute and a half - and then, just before the start of the final lap, Longo Borghini attacked and dropped Spratt, solo-ing home to victory. Poor Spratt was chased down and overtaken by her team-mate Emma Johansson, but Eiisa had won - her first World Cup victory, the first Italian to ever win the race. I wish the video had shown more of the chase (I really want to know what happened there!) but who can blame RAI for wanting to follow Elisa's every pedal-stroke? That moment when the team car pulled alongside her and spoke to her, and it looked like she was riding along in the awful weather, crying with happiness.... I still have a lump in my throat thinking about it. I always love Binda, but this one was special.
As I said, links to the videos in the post-race thread, with ELB answering some questions for us about the race. And that's another reason to like her, because a champion who talks to fan-sites like us? That's golden!
3. Giro Rosa Stage 3
There were so many great racing moments in this year's Giro Rosa but the stand-out stage for me was Stage 3,starting and finishing in the beautiful hill-top village of Cerro al Volturno.
The stage profile meant it was always going to be a lot of fun - one of the climbs at the start of the race that were characteristic of the 2013 Giro, with a long technical descent followed by a lot of short, sharp hills, then 20km of flat, another big climb and steep descent, then returning over the first hill of the race and finishing with a steep, cobbled, road with sharp corners up into the finish. One of those perfect "Classics-style" Giro stages that always produce entertaining battles.
With that kind of course, it was no surprise there were attacks from the start - including from MCipollini-Giordana's Valentina Scandolara, whose endless escape attempts at every opportunity (especially the ones that were blatantly suicide-attack territory) made the race a lot of fun. At the top of the climb, the peloton were spread out, with everyone battling to get to the front, because as women's cycling fans know, when we have long, technical descents, it plays into the hands of exactly the rider you don't want to have an advantage - Marianne Vos!
By the time they'd hit the bottom of the descent, around km 20, Vos was ahead, with only five riders having made it with her - Scandolara, ORICA-AIS' Tiffany Cromwell, Team USA sprinter Lauren Hall, Stage Two's third-placed finisher Barbara Guarishi in the white Best Young Rider jersey and, spending her 24th birthday working her heart out, Vos' Rabobank-Liv/Giant team-mate Lucinda Brand, who surely had to win the "Most Valuable Team-mate" award at the end of the Giro for her many, many sacrifices, moves and super-hard work. They only had 30 seconds' lead at the 30km point; up to 1'10" with Brand pushing endlessly on the front, but no further, and it really felt, as first Brand and Guarischi, and then Hall and Scandolara dropped off, that Vos and Cromwell were doomed - especially with news of Specialized-lululemon and Team USA driving hard on the front of the chase.
Watching the video, Cromwell and Vos' skills were perfectly matched, with Cromwell leading through the climbs and Vos through the descents, working together so beautifully, and amazingly, despite that flat plains section, they'd made it away! Watching them it seemed like these were beautiful roads to ride - it was only reading other riders' tweets and blogs after that I realised how incredibly tough it really was. There are links to the entire RAI hour-long video in the stage report, and I really recommend this - text-book riding, until at 8km to go, as the dynamic between Vos and Cromwell had turned from co-operative to competitive, Vos starting taking the final descent as only she can, and poor Tiffany slid out in a corner and fell. Vos was giving it everything, no way could she react and slow, and by the time Cromwell was back and riding, she'd been caught by the chase - Vos racing for every possible second, up the cobbles, home, the victor!
So much to love about the stage - and this was the one that started the race for GC, with 12 riders having laid down their intentions. And I was so happy to see Tibco's Claudia Häusler finishing second, stamping her return to the top levels. Häusler won the Giro Donne in 2009 and came 4th in 2010, but a head injury from a very nasty crash in the 2010 Giro Toscana combined with her working on her Mechnical Engineering degree meant she hadn't really shone as brightly... until now! It's always so good to see riders come back from problems, and on such beautiful, difficult stages.
There are links to all the videos and photos and results etc in the stage report, and if you're looking for reminders of great road stages over the winter, bookmark that, it's well worth watching. And if you want some rider reactions, including Amber Pierce's video discussion of the tactics, here are my post-stage interviews.
4. Open de Suède Vårgårda World Cup Road
I said I was only including three races, but how could I leave out what the best edition of the Vårgårda I can remember?
I think I've got used to the type of Vårgårda that's won by a sprint, or an organised breakaway, but this one was all about attrition - every one of the 12 laps of the 11km course seemed to have more action and attacks. I will always have a soft-spot for Vårgårda because of the home-made streaming by Vargarda.nu - a mix of radio, graphics and cameras on the climb and on the finish-line, that meant we could have a live-ish thread. But even following on twitter, this one would have been exciting, and one of the best of the year.
Attacks, attacks, attacks - with fan favourites Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (Rabobank) and Evelyn Stevens (SpecLulu) out together on lap two as just one example, and even though they were caught, that's what the race was like - riders who could stay away giving it a try, and the bunch chasing desperately to stop that. It became one of those races where a small group became the lead group as more and more riders came across, and then riders attacking off the front of that... until there were nine riders leading - the top three in the World Cup rankings, Vos, Johansson and Van Dijk; Van Dijk's team-mate and climbing star Stevens; Vos' team-mate Roxane Knetemann and Johansson's road captain Loes Gunnewijk, who'd started this particular attempt for freedom; two-times World Road Champion and top sprinter Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle Honda); and young talents Rosella Ratto 9Hitec), Amy Pieters (Argos) and Anna van der Breggen (Sengers).
I think my absolute favourite moment of the race came when they were on the penultimate lap, and just before the climb, when that lead group had 3'20", Karl Lima (the Hitec manager) tweeted "Break is looking to each other. Especially they look on Bronzini." and then on the climb Vos attacked like a woman possessed, and only Johansson and Pieters could follow, with Van Dijk, Stevens and Van der Breggan able to catch them on the flat. I love that! It was Bronzini's first Vårgårda, but the way she's been climbing this year, of course she was a major threat in that bunch. And it exemplifies Vos' riding for me - as a cyclist who has a great sprint, she could easily sit on and make other people do the work, but she's always, always attacking when she can, and making races more interesting. And on the final climb, Stevens, who'd made it back, attacked first, but couldn't hold it to the top, and it came down to Vos, Johansson and Amy Pieters - with Van Dijk using that incredible ITT power to chase back, catch and attack, and then a duel through the final technical sections.... more videos, report, hyperbole and links right here!
So those are four of my favourite moments - what are yours, and why? Let's talk in the comments - and we'll have a voting thread up soon.
On a personal level, I am still so very happy and grateful and delighted that Karl Lima arranged for me to go to Flèche Wallonne with Hitec, and you can read all my stories from the race here - and that Breast Cancer Care Cycling Team took me to the Omloop het Nieuwsblad. I also loved all of Velofocus' photos from the Giro, and dear Podium Cafésters, how about net year we meet at the inaugural edition of the Women's Tour (of Britain) in May and make that our race of the 2014?