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A first look at the 2015 women's calendar - how does it compare to 2014?

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It's always interesting when the UCI road cycling calendar is released, and 2015 looks really exciting, with tons of good news, one race that is incredibly exciting, and the return of an old favourite. Here's a first-run analysis of what's changed, and as always, let's talk about it all in the comments - what do YOU think?

This is part of an ongoing series of calendar analysis - and yes, I do have a spreadsheet addiction, why do you ask? You can find the UCI calendar here - you might need to pick "women elite" and 2015 from the drop-down menus. And Part 2 of my analysis, with more numbers about 2015, and comparing it to how the calendar's changed over the last ten years (including where the changes have happened) is here.

You might notice that I've left off the races in Golan, Syria, as much as we all hope, I can't see the war there stopping - and I've also left off the Brazilian races, as they've never run yet despite appearing on the calendar.  I'd love them all to actually happen, but if I leave them on, it looks like we have more cancellations, when it reality it'll be more surprising if they happen.

You can read the analyses from previous years in the storystream - and one common theme is we need to start with a caveat, because what's announced in the calendar in October isn't necessarily what was raced.

What changed in 2014?

Here's what I mean - these are the differences between what was on the 2014 calendar published in October 2013, and what's actually been raced

women's cycling 2014 calendar - planned versus raced 1

women's cycling 2014 calendar - planned versus raced 2

Double click on the sheets to make them bigger.

Races in green are new for 2014 (including brand-new races and national-level races that stepped up, and the late additions were added after the first calendar was published.  Red are ones that were originally on, but didn't run, and yellow races are ones that were smaller than originally announced.

The interesting thing is that although we lost a number of races that were announced this time last year, we didn't lose any race days, because we had some late editions to the calendar - including the biggest-hyped race of the year, La Course by Le Tour de France, and the fantastic Ladies Tour of Norway.  So there's a possibility that we could get more new races for 2015 - and there are some spaces on the calendar, too!

What does 2015 look like?

Here's the visual overview (if you want a closer look, you can click on it, or download it 2015 women's cycling calendar spreadsheet )

2015 women's cycling calendar 1

2015 women's cycling calendar 2

So that's pretty - and you can see there are some very clear gaps, but what does it mean?  Here's how 2015 compares to what was raced in 2014:

2014-2015 calendar comparison 1

2014-2015 calendar comparison 2

It's the same colour-coding as before - green for new races and races that have got bigger, red for races that ran last year but aren't on this years calendar (caveats!), yellow are races that have reduced from last year

So what's new?

I've got to admit, every time I look at this I get very, very excited, because there's a race there I never expected, and am super-happy about...

Strade Bianche, Italy

Wow, what an addition to the Spring Classics! There's no information about what the women will race on the website yet, but we know what to expect - dusty white roads through gorgeous Tuscan countryside and tough racing.  The men's race only started in 2007, but it already feels like it's one of those legendary races kids dream about winning.  I'd love to see this as a World Cup one day - imagine this and a women's Paris-Roubaix added to the calendar...

GP San Luis Femenino, Argentina

2014 saw the first iteration of the Tour Feminino San Luis, and this is a great addition - a day race to help riders get their legs in, and making the travel even more worthwhile.  More South American races is more better, here's hoping the expansion continues.

Les 4 Jours Féminins, France

There's very little information on that website, and I'm wondering where it'll be - is this a replacement for the Tour de Limousin, maybe, which was cancelled last year?  We've been losing French races recently (and the Tour de Bretagne isn't on the calendar at the moment either) so it's good to see a new one.  4 days in France - I'm sure we'll know more soon!

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The return of an old friend - Women's Tour of New Zealand

Welcome back!  There used to be some great antipodean UCI races, but they've gradually all left us, with the Women's Tour of New Zealand cancelling for 2013 and 2014 which they said was because of the high costs of UCI drugs testing, so it's wonderful it's back.  It'll start with a Team Time Trial, then four road stages that are longer than normal, including an uphill finish, and some nicely jagged profiles, and if previous years are anything to go by, lots of wind.  Plus how can we forget Manel Lacambra crashing the team van in 2010?

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Existing races getting UCI status for 2015

While it's good to see brand-new races on the calendar, there's a very good argument for races that aren't allied to men's races starting at national level, and building up, like these races

The USA mini-season

It's especially good to see that we've got UCI-ranked stage races back on the calendar next year - and these two races are so close, that's a lovely little mini-season.  It's good on so many levels - the UCI goal of globalisation, obviously, but it's especially good for riders on the USA domestic circuit to get the chance to get UCI points, to get noticed by the European teams, and if Euro teams go over for the races, the chance for the different pelotons to mix.  These two have been women's National Racing Calendar events on the same course/same day as men's races, and they both have a lot of climbing in them. This year The Joe Martin Stage Race, in Arkansas,had an ITT, a climbing stage, a lap stage with a hill, and a crit in Arkansas, and was won by Tibco's Lauren Stephens - she's better known as a sprinter, which means maybe that hilly stage is not as harsh as it sounds?

The Silver City Tour of the Gila will be a day longer than this year, which was 2 road races, an ITT and a crit.  It's got a lot of climbing, and on challenging desert roads in New Mexico.  This year it was won by two-time Giro Rosa winner Mara Abbott - maybe the USA is going to bring back the climbing races we miss?

(What I'm wondering is how the crit stages will work.  One reason the many excellent USA stage races aren't UCI-ranked is that the UCI has had strict limitations on allowing crits in stage races.  I'm wondering if we'll see, ahem, "crit-like" stages, or if the rules are changing?  Crits are very accessible for spectators, and easy to run, and I'd love there to be more UCI races in places like the USA and Australia, where there's a strong crit culture.  I wonder what happens about accommodation, though?  Like a lot of USA races, these two rely on host housing, and I'm not sure Euro pro teams will be used to sleeping on inflatable mattresses in fans' living rooms...)

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There are two national-level day races stepping up - the SwissEver GP Cham-Hagendorn in Switzerland, and Salveda Omloop van de IJsseldelta in the Netherlands.  We used to have some great Swiss races on the calendar that have disappeared, including World Cups, so having 2 Swiss races for 2015 is excellent.  This was a lap race this year with just 40m climbing on the 9km circuit, and was won solo by Elke Gebhardt from a mostly-Swiss field that was broken up into single riders and small groups...  With Bigla becoming a super-team for 2015, expect their big guns out in force!

IJsseldelta is near Zwolle in the north-east Netherlands, and this year was the 10th edition of the race - a big loop through flat, windy country.  Here's some video!

It was won by Rabobank's Anna van der Breggen, and if I was going to pick a race that might want to move, it's this one, as it goes up against the Friends Life Women's Tour, which had to move from it's May slot due to the UK General Election, and the climby Giro Trentino, which says it's back to three days after dropping to two in 2013, and just one this year.  Dutch racing is always fun, so if it does move, watch out for it.

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Races not on the calendar for 2015

So that's the good news.  In terms of races we've lost (caveat, of course, they may still appear), the biggest loss are the El Salvador races, in terms of numbers...  but given that the Vuelta El Salvador had a car crashing into an entire TTT team last year, and Tone Hatteland Lima was blogging about more dangerous conditions this year, I'm inclined to say that if they can't put on safe races, it shouldn't be on the calendar.  The same goes for the Giro Toscana - after the riders neutralised the final stage in 2012 over dangerous conditions, and then most of the peloton refused to race the final stage in protest last year, it's not a race I'll mourn.  It wasn't on the calendar this time last year, and ended up running (raced by the Italian teams only) so it may yet return.

I am surprised the Tour de Bretagne isn't there.  It's traditionally been more of a development race, but this year was won by Elisa Longo Borghini, and it provides great opportunities for the smaller team's so I hope it's back.

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The really good news

So all in all, I think this is a really positive calendar as it stands.  Perhaps the best thing is it's solved some of the big problems of races clumping together that plagued this year.  I'm completely in favour of races overlapping, especially when we have scenarios like a week with a climbing race and a sprinting race opposite each other, and a .2 race on at the same time as a .1 race, because it gives more (especially development) riders more opportunities to do well and be spotted, rather than just turning up and being hammered by the likes of Vos, Johansson and Armitstead every week.  This year's problem was that the UCI didn't seem to help races - so one of the biggest and best stage races, Thüringen Rundfahrt ended up starting the day after the only Grand Tour, the Giro Rosa ended, so the field suffered - and also clashing with the Giro was the European u23 Championships, which meant young riders like Rossella Ratto and Elena Cecchini had to miss the Giro, which had been  huge goal for both of them.  Next year Euros will clash with the Route de France, but that's nowhere near such a big deal, and so much better for the young riders.

It really feels positive, there aren't any major hiccoughs there.  Trentino and Friends Life is a clash, but Trentino was traditionally at the same time as the RaboSter Zeeuwsche Eilanden, and given the race's troubles, it's maybe best to have another race running at the same time if it's still precarious.  I hope not - I hope it's back to the glory days of riding-all-day-up-Alps, because that would complement the flat(ish) Friends Life Tour perfectly.

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Things to improve

We still need more climbing races on the calendar, as it's noticeable that the races we've lost over the last ten years have been the ones with the mountains and the steep hills.

And there are some big holes in terms of where these races are happening - for example, still not Australian UCI races, despite the new men's UCI-ranked Cadel Evans race, and still only one UCI-level women's race, despite the brand-new men's UCI-ranked Tour de Yorkshire.  Both of those races will have women's domestic-level races, but given the fact there's so little in these countries, why can't they do better, and why are the national Federations allowing men's races to happen with the women as afterthoughts?  And still no UCI-level races on the whole of the African continent, and lots of places where there are very successful men's races without women's alongside them.

But let's take that as opportunities for growth!   I've talked more about the countries where the races are held, with some more statistical analysis of 2014 v 2015, and how 2015 relates to the last ten years, in part 2 of this post.  In the meantime, omne and I talked about the calendar changes on this week's women's cycling podcast, if you want to hear us get over-excited about Strade Bianche. And please do share any thoughts on anything calendar-related in the comments - I can't wait to hear what you think!