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A new cast of players - Women’s road race

Championship races in the last ten years or so have all pretty much played to one type of rider when it comes to women’s races. It’s the punchy riders with decent climbing and enough of a sprint to win from a smaller group. This time the script looks a bit different.

Tour de Yorkshire 2016 - Stage Two Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Some would of course say that the last ten years have been races suited to Marianne Vos and it’s just strange circumstance that has caused the outcome to vary from year to year and there may be some truth to that. Vos is the prime example of the rider type that can win championships with riders like Emma Johansson, Nicole Cooke, Lizzie Deignan, Annemiek van Vleuten etc. being similar and sometimes equal to Vos some seasons. The more pure climbers haven’t had many chances, Beijing olympics, Mendrisio Worlds are perhaps some of the races that have come closest but not really going all the way. Copenhagen turned out to be a sprinters race but it had enough of an uphill sprint to sort of exclude the purest of female sprinters in the end even if Bronzini took the win. Doha though should give us a chance to see the real specialists fighting it out for a Worlds title.

It’s not like sprinters in general are underprivileged in the regular season. There are plenty of racedays for sprinters, perhaps even more so than for men as there are so few climby races and some of the major additions to the new World Tour have been crits/sprinters races. It’s just the biggest titles that are rare opportunities.

So this may be the big chance for a few names who are big but perhaps lesser known to the fans who mainly get to see women race at Worlds and Olympics. First of all I see the big favorite being veteran Kirsten Wild of the Netherlands. She is the Queen of Qatar, the early season stage race that is dominated by sprinters and crosswind specialists. Wild is the purest power-sprinter in the women’s peloton, a Kittel or Greipel if you will. Not the snappiest sprinter but no one can rival her power or top speed once she gets going. On a course like this those qualities could well make the difference. Most likely she will be the first priority for the ridiculously loaded Dutch team but you never know, there are so many cards to play for them. Marianne Vos can sprint with the best but it would be weird if they didn’t put their power behind Wild.

The second Qatar specialist who will be a favorite is Wiggle’s and Australia’s Chloe Hosking. She has spent much of her career leading out others, from Ina-Yoko Teutenberg to most recently Jolien D’Hoore. With D’Hoore track focused this year though she has been Wiggle’s first choice sprinter in many cases and what a season she has made of it. Winning on the Champs Elysees in La Course was the biggest moment but she’s also taken WT wins in London and Chongming. It has been a late avalanche of big results for a rider who has shown promise for a long time. Hosking doesn’t have quite the pure speed of Wild or Vos but she has an uncanny ability to find the right position in the sprints on her good days and she can outsmart pretty much everyone.

The third big interesting name to me is Belgium’s Jolien D’Hoore. A track sprinter (Rio bronze in the Omnium) really who has made huge leaps on the road winning World Cup sprints last year and Madrid Challenge WT this summer. A World Champion would be a huge boost for the interest and respect for women’s cycling in Belgium which would make a huge difference as so many of the big races are there. If anything D’Hoore might suffer from not having the same quality of support as she has on Wiggle-High5 but as easy a course as this might make her chances of having teammates p there in the finale that much greater.

On the off chance that teams manage what they didn’t in Copenhagen and make the attacks stick we could see the usual cast of characters of course. Riders like Lizzie Deignan, Emma Johansson, Anna van der Breggen won’t want to just walk away from a race like this without trying and they likely can’t win the big sprint so it should be interesting to see what they want to try. A rider like Chantal Blaak who just missed out on Rio despite having the near perfect season will be interesting to watch too, she may be the Dutch team’s ultimate joker. All of their chances feel really slim having seen the U23 race though.

More likely we should see one of the other sprinters. Italy have riders like Marta Bastianelli and Maria Confalonieri who have been winning this season along with Elena Cecchini who is ever improving and a rider for the big races. Hannah Barnes of the UK and tiny Coryn Rivera (USA) are both improving sprinters too, especially the latter on a technical course like this. Lotta Lepistö of Finland and Bigla should be very interesting to watch as well, the last year she has been on a straight upwards trajectory and it’s not clear yet if there is an upper limit to what she can do. A Finnish World Champion, wouldn’t that be a hoot? It could happen.

Chances are that like the other races here the women’s race won’t be that interesting until the last 15 kms or so but I still think that of the races this week their race has the best chance of opening up and becoming interesting early. The teams are smaller, there are no 12 man teams that can throw their weight in to reel in any attackers and there are a handful af really strong riders who won’t want to see this end in a peloton sprint. We can dream at least. But should it end in a big galop, at least we’ll likely have an original winner and not one of the usual suspects.