Confessions, I am not an expert on women’s cycling at the moment, but I can see the writing on the wall. Everyone can. The Dutch will be really, really hard to stop in the UCI World Championships Elite Women’s road race on Saturday in Bergen, Norway.
Annemiek van Vleuten, Ellen van Dijk and Anna van der Breggen are the season’s top overall point-scorers at CQRanking and the Podium Cafe. Their fourth wheel, if you can believe it, is none other than Marianne Vos. Their “domestiques” are Chantal Blaak — second in the Ronde van Vlaanderen — and Lucinda Brand, both of whom rank in the top 15 or so in the world. Van der Breggen is the reigning Olympic champion, a pretty fair data point considering the length and profile of the course. Van Vleuten, who was primed to win in Rio, just took the victory in the time trial, showing off her overall strength and form at the end of an endlessly brilliant season. The two are essentially a tossup as to who will win, according to the betting markets (AvdB 15/8, AvV 11/2).
I don’t have a ton of insight to offer, but will toss a few things out there:
- Got more than one possible winner? Got a history of A working for B in the big races, and now B wants her shot? This is the nightmare scenario for the Dutch, that they can’t coalesce around a single ambition and instead they are insufficiently organized in what could be a bunchy finish. Anything less than a win will be a huge disappointment. Their fourth option is Marianne freaking VOS!!!
- The course itself will dictate the extent to which the Dutch are favored; if the 11km from the top of the last climb of Salmon Hill is enough to ensure a large regrouping, then sprinting it out for the win opens the finale up to much more of a crapshoot.
- One of the top favorites is American Coryn Rivera, who won on a Ronde van Vlaanderen that is maybe comparably demanding, and ended in a medium-sized bunch sprint. If anything, Bergen should tip things back toward the sprinters, of which Rivera is one, so if and when that scenario plays itself out, are the Dutch really heavy favorites?
- The season’s biggest winner, Jolien d’Hoore, just got through winning a reduced-field sprint at the end of the Vuelta, the Madrid Challenge, ahead of... Rivera.
- Two of the cagiest veterans on the planet, Elisa Longo Borghini of Italy and Lizzie Deignan of the UK, will be on hand and apparently fit to win.
- Former winners Pauline Ferrand-Prevot and Giorgia Bronzini will be on hand to make noise.
The list keeps going. One thing we can say, as the era of Marianne and Giorgia and others starts to fade, the newcomers to the women’s elite level really bulk up this field into one of the great competitions. I haven’t even gotten to Kasia Niewiadoma and Lisa Brennauer. To some degree I am just rattling off names and not getting to their specific qualifications, but that’s what this course will do, I think: Keep a lot of people in it until the end.
My Pick to Win
Just a stab in the dark, but I am going with... d’Hoore. On form, very fast.