Tour de l'Ardèche, 2nd-7th September 2013
L'Ardèche is seven stages over six days, and this is the one in south-central France, in the beautiful countryside around the Ardèche river. The race website is probably the best of any of the French stage races, and there's always a ton of great information, as well as fun social media from the teams. At this time of year, we see a lot of mix teams, especially as teams might take this week off, so there are lots of riders racing with new people, and stagiaires etc - and as they're staying in camp-sites and trailer parks, we see a lot of photos like this...
For the stage information, the website has a page, and if you click on each one on the left-hand side, it'll take you through to each of the stage pages, with links to the maps on openrunner - and the Velofocus race preview has the routes on google maps, and course profiles.
We start with the 2.5km prologue; Stage 1 is lovely and hilly, 120km with more or less a pyramid-shaped profile, a big climb in the middle, and a jagged descent with sharp climbs; Wednesday is the two-stage day, with a flat 3.5km ITT in the morning, and then in the afternoon 77km full of climbs and descents and climbs and descents; Stage 4 is, surprise!, hilly again, 110km of it; Stage 5 starts and finishes on ascents, and guess what's in the middle? And finally, Stage 6, relatively mellow, but still all hills, all day long....
With courses like that, it's no wonder Emma Pooley has won for the last two years, but she's not on the startlist this year. The big teams here are Wiggle Honda, whose Linda Villumsen won the prologue tonight; Lotto Belisol, with Ashleigh Moolman back from her broken hand; BePink, whose Alena Amialiusik is always worth watching; and Faren Kuota, with Fabiana Luperini. There there are all the international teams - Russia, especially, and the Australians, whose usual-strong line-up is bolstered by Tiffany Cromwell; and Team USA is always worth watching - plus a whole load of climbing pros like Rachel Neyland and Rossella Ratto in the other national teams and Mixed teams...
There will be a ton of information about the race on the two brilliant French women's cycling sites, VeloNova and Le Blog de Gwéna - VeloNova, for example, has this excellent interview with the race organiser. Their twitters - @gwena_cyclisfem and @VeloNova will be great places to look for video. Martin Barras, the Australian national Team DS has a preview on the Cycling Australia website, and there's a great race preview on Les Déesses de la Route. And remember last year's blog from the DS in charge of the mixed AA team, Christophe Edelaine, on his first experience of women's racing? There's a translation of it into English in the VeloRooms preview.
Boels Ladies Tour, 3rd-8th September 2013
This one is all about the sprinters and the wind, six stages over six days, and as with all the Dutch races, has AMAZING social media. The website is lovely, the race twitter is great, there are photos etc on facebook. It's had various different names over the years - Profile Ladies Tour, Brainwash Ladies Tour - but it's always the Holland Ladies Tour. Four flat stages, with intermediate sprint bonifications to make it crazy-fast from the word go, a Team Time Trial for some good Worlds warm-up, and then the final sprint stage around Berg en Terblijt, the Dutch Classics territory, with short, burning climbs and descents to sort out the GC, and the gorgeous Cauberg... It'll be all about how teams can work together and manipulate the wind, and riders will need their pack skills and ability to keep position and read the race as much as their speed.
Stage 1 is up in Groningen - a very flat and windy, loopy course, with some difficult cobbled sections; Stage 2 is a 30km Team Time Trial (guess who'll win!); Stage 3 is the longest, 122km that are loopy and flat again, just outside Utrecht; Stage 4 is 116km, 5 big loops and then some little loops, around Papendrecht and the Beneden Merwede river; Stage 5 is almost exactly due east, another stage around rivers; and then the final day, Stage 6, is the queen stage, one where the GC will be decided - in the hilly Limburg region, with all those gorgeous Dutch climbs, some of which that featured in last year's World Championships, including that icon of Dutch Classics, the Cauberg... gorgeous to watch, rather than to ride, of course! The first climb comes at 6.9km, and then it's loops with punchy climbs over and over and over again - scroll down on the stage page and look at all those lovely, familiar names.
Again, the rider who won the last two races - Marianne Vos - won't be there, but Rabobank-Liv/Giant will still be racing to win, with Annemiek van Vleuten leading the team. My pick to win is either Ellen van Dijk or Evelyn Stevens, depending how the last day goes, and even if they don't make it, their team, Specialized-lululemon starts head and shoulders the favourite for the TTT win. (EDIT! Last year, Evie Stevens was second behind Vos on the same final stage course, so I'm revising my bet to Ellen leading GC after the TTT, until Evie takes over and wins the GC on Stage 6! Remember what happened to Evie at this race last year?)
In terms of stage wins, the only question is how many Kirsten Wild will come away with - these courses are perfect for the queen of Dutch sprinting, although Amy Pieters will be the Argos-Shimano GC hope. The other sprinters there are Lizzie Armitstead for Boels-Dolmans (and she's been good over the hills this year, and descends like a demon, so she might be good for the overall too); Gracie Elvin for ORICA-AIS, with Loes Gunnewijk for the tactical escape artist finishes and Classics style, and Shara Gillow for the hills; Chloe Hosking for Hitec Products UCK and Shelley Olds for Tibco. Here's the startlist for who else will be there.
Loes Gunnewijk is the perfect rider to tell us more about this race - read her great preview on the ORICA website. There are more previews on Les Déesses de la Route, VeloFocus and in Spanish on Cobbles & Hills and on El Pelotón, and a little one on the Argos Shimano site. There'll be a load of photos and news on the race site, and there's usually videos of this race - watch the race twitter and the comments for them.
My live race twitter list has been updated with accounts who are updating from these races - and there will be information every day in the comments. Let us know anything that you find and enjoy too!