The Road World Cups are such interesting races. They're tough as hell, all about attrition, and any rider that finishes the race deserves to feel proud of herself. This one is 146km long, with the first half of the race including one climb of the VAM-berg, a man-made hill created from landfill, with a steepness that is brutal on the legs, and sections that are less like cobbles and more like stones thrown down to make a rough path, doing the usual work to exhaust all but the best riders. The first big loop runs through farmland, and on a cold spring day like yesterday, there was a lot of wind to contend with, so that with every stretch of cobbles, bend in the road and early attack, the bunch would fracture and there would be a fight to get back - with even riders who are experts in this race, like Emma Johansson and Giorgia Bronzini missing moves and chasing back through the cross-winds as the race approached the VAM for the second time. This was one of those decisive parts of the race, with riders battling to get to the front group, because once they hit the climb, they knew everything would change all over again - as it did, whittling down the peloton even more.
After the VAM, with 40km left to race, an elite group was in front, including Anna van der Breggen, Thalita de Jong, Annemiek van Vleuten & Iris Slappendel from Rabobank-Liv; Kirsten Wild, Amy Pieters, Claudia Häusler & Maaike Polspoel from Liv-Shimano; Chantal Blaak, Trixi Worrack & Tiffany Cromwell (Specialized-lululemon); Ellen van Dijk & Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans); Johansson (ORICA-AIS); and Hitec's Audrey Cordon - and then it was 13, as the four Rabos upped the pace and Van der Breggen and Slappendel escaped up the road, working together perfectly. This was such a clever move from Rabo-Liv - Slappendel is a rouleur and Classics expert who can work her heart out through the pain, and Van der Breggen has been one of the bright talents of the peloton, moving to her first big team after a few years causing chaos with her attacks from the tiny Sengers team. And with team-mates Van Vleuten and De Jong behind them in the group, things looked good for the Dutch team, and their lead was soon up to 56 seconds as they crossed the finish-line for the first time.
It looked as though they would be helped by misfortune as well, as the chase group were briefly misdirected, losing 25 seconds and a lot of momentum, and giving the chance for riders from behind to join them. The two leaders were 1:25 ahead, but when you have power-riders like Ellen van Dijk in the chase, escapees can never be complacent. Van Dijk is the current ITT World Champion, and watching her huge efforts on the front reminded us exactly why - she always looks so fierce and exultant as she charges forward, really attacking the roads. And it works - at the final ascent of the VAM, Slappendel dropped off the front, and Van der Breggen's lead was down to around half a minute. And then Van Dijk's team-mate Lizzie Armitstead attacked!
Armitstead has had a fantastic opening season, coming away from her three Spring races with two third places and a win at the Omloop van het Hageland. Her explosive attack up the VAM was a thing of beauty, and she's one of the great descenders, so she'd soon overhauled Slappendel, and had Van der Breggen in her sights - but could she catch her?
At 10km to go, after a couple of agonising kilometres, the British rider finally made the catch, and the pair worked hard, building up their lead, keeping a close eye on each other, of course. They had 32 seconds at 7km, with the chase group shredded and down to 8 riders after the VAM. In the last few kilometres, Van der Breggen tried to attack and drop Armitstead, knowing the British rider has the better sprint, but Lizzie wasn't having any of it - she held on until it was time to start her long sprint, making her first Road World Cup win look easy!
1. Lizzie Armitstead (GBr) Boels-Dolmans, 3:51:03
2. Anna van der Breggen (Ned) Rabobank-Liv, + 00:02
3. Shelley Olds (USA) Alé-Cipollini, + 00:29
4. Chantal Blaak (Ned) Specialized-lululemon, s.t.
5. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Rabobank-Liv, s.t.
6. Kirsten Wild (Ned) Liv-Shimano, s.t.
7. Ellen van Dijk (Ned) Boels-Dolmans, s.t.
8. Emma Johansson (Swe) ORICA-AIS, s.t.
9. Amy Pieters (Ned) Liv-Shimano, s.t.
10. Iris Slappendel (Ned) Rabobank-Liv, + 01:36
Armitstead has a fantastic palmares, with 9 Track World Cup golds, a Track World Championships rainbow jersey, an Olympic silver medal on the road and now a Road World Cup - and she's only 25! Anna van der Breggen was a fantastic second-placed rider, too, taking her best World Cup result to date. Here are audio interviews from them both - a delighted-sounding Armitstead in English and AvdB in Dutch - and another 3 minutes of video from NOS Sport.
This is the first time the World Cup has introduced a Sprint, Mountains and Best Young Rider competition, and here are the leaders after one race - Lizzie the overall, Amy Pieters Queen of the Mountains, Thalita de Jong the Best Young Rider, and Iris Slappendel in the sprint jersey. Slappendel is a graphic designer off the bike, and she won the UCI competition to design these jerseys - so of course winning one will be extra-special for her, and really nice for fans like me to see!
UPDATE! Chloe Hosking has a fantastic race report, full of insight on the race on her website or on Cycling Tips. It's got so much information about how the race unfolded, and what it means for the peloton, and if you only click through to one thing about the race, click through to this.
There are race reports from ORICA-AIS, with lots of photos and how Loes Gunnewijk was let down by neutral service; Rabobank-Liv; Liv-Shimano; and of course, from Boels-Dolmans, in Dutch and in English. Great photos from Velofocus, who was roadside on the cobbles and VAM; and more photos on Sportfoto.nl and Cyclingnews.
UPDATE! Here's Rabo-Liv's video from the race
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And if you want to know what it's like to experience the race roadside, here's Manfred van Rhee's video, from cobbles, VAM and finish-line
Look to the comments for rider blogs as we find them, but in the meantime, some twitter reactions
Victory in my first Road World Cup! Confidence was key to win, thanks to those who have helped me believe in myself! pic.twitter.com/0K3opRf4jL— Lizzie Armitstead (@L_ArmiTstead) March 15, 2014
AUCH... This day hurted! Congrats Lizzie for the win and @RaboLiv for a superstrong race!— Emma Johansson (@emmaprocyclist) March 15, 2014
Here are videos from the other two 2014 Drenthe races