Off into the misty hills and potholed lanes of the Basque country for the venerable—by women’s racing standards—stage race Emakumeen Bira (WWT 12). Plus its unnaturally sunny warm-up Durango-Durango, and the Swiss one-dayer GP Cham-Hagendorn.
TotW says zoroniak! to the Bira organisers for the effort despite the limitations of 4G streaming, with dropouts at key moments due to weather and terrain. That said, signal loss isn’t unknown at Itzulia either, and TotW suspects a relay plane would’ve had a job on the fog-bound stage 3. The ‘exciting last stage’ might have been even more exciting if we’d seen more of the chase group. Knowledgeable bilingual commentary was a plus.
Brief Durango-Durango highlights, too.
- Elisa Longo Borghini: Began Bira coyly claiming she’d try to defend the mountain jersey she’d ‘accidentally’ won on the first stage. Her sprint for second behind teammate Tayler Wiles on stage 3 revealed bigger aims. Attacking solo over the last climb on the final stage, she fulfilled her ambitions, taking the win and—just—the GC. A first race win in two years, she raised her arms rather early—‘I just wanted to celebrate,’ she said—but her teammates did the rest. Rider of the Week. And about time, too.
- Tayler Wiles: Wiles’ sprint for the line on the final stage of Bira denied Spratt bonuses and ensured her teammate ELB won the GC. A great team follow-up to her attacking solo stage win the previous day.
- Amanda Spratt: Won last year’s Bira in a pincer move as Anna van der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten cancelled each other out. This year defending a narrow early lead proved trickier, and she was pipped for the GC by two seconds. Still, a stage win and second overall is not bad going.
- Soraya Paladin : Has now ridden more days than anyone else TotW can find in the peloton, and with amazing consistency, finishing third here on GC. Now for the Giro.
- Jolien D’hoore: With Boels’ climbers focussing on California, their main aim at Bira was a sprint win for D’hoore. She claimed it with such ease TotW can only wonder how the early-season Wild-Wiebes duopoly would have looked if D’hoore had been fit. Seventh at the hilly Durango was an amusing extra, for us and for her.
- Lucy Kennedy: After early season success at home in Australia, took a well-deserved first European race win with a solo attack at Durango-Durango.
Alternative Team of the Week
Music Muzic (won the Bira U23 jersey and also got the coldest rider on the podium award); Canyon-SRAM’s young New Zealander Ella Harris (who won the U23 at Burgos & was second here); Annemiek van Vleuten (by no means above putting in a substantial shift for her team mates); Anna Plichta (typified Trek’s adventurous spirit at Bira by getting in three breaks in four stages); Cristina Martinez (got home team Bizkaia Durango up into the Bira GC top ten); Julie Leth (beat some decent riders to win the Swiss Chard [© The Figurehead] race).
Team of the Week
It’s the great injustice of this season’s TotW columns that so far Mitchelton-Scott haven’t been awarded Team of the Week. The ubiquitous, well-drilled peloton-controlling team par excellence, they’ve been visible on the front in practically every race they’ve entered, setting things up for Annemiek van Vleuten (and occasionally inadvertently for other teams too). Perhaps that run of second places for Van Vleuten disguised their effectiveness, with all the credit inevitably going to Annemiek when she did get the win.
This was going to be their week. It all started off so well with Lucy Kennedy winning Durango-Durango in a one-two move with teammate Amanda Spratt. But at Bira the decision to put everything into Spratt retaining the title didn’t quite pay off. Instead, the race became a classic clash between attack and defence. Mitchelton defended Spratt’s narrow lead rather conservatively, typified by the decision to recall Kennedy from the break on the final stage.
Conversely, Trek-Segafredo attacked repeatedly, constantly forcing their rivals onto the back foot. Four of Trek’s six riders spent time off the front, making for super exciting racing. There was nothing cavalier about it either. Anna Plichta mopped up bonus seconds en route. Tayler Wiles’s sprint for the line on the final stage made sure Spratt couldn’t win the GC. It’s not quite come together for Trek until now. Here they started to look like the team we thought they might be. Team of the week.
Txapela of the Week
Ok, so it’s not like we get a txapela every week but TotW is getting to be bit of a connoisseur of podium headgear and in any case, Elisa Longo Borghini wears it well.
Lanterne Rouge of the Week
Anna Plichta’s multiple efforts off the front for Trek took their toll and left her dead last overall. TotW would never dare compare a rider on a climb to a bovine animal but guesses it’s ok if a rider does it herself. :-)
Best Basque rider is, of course, a big deal at Bira. Ane Santesteban and Eider Merino battled it out, finishing level on time in the GC top 10 with Santesteban just nicking it on count back.
Spectators of the Week
As ever, a decent turnout of Basque fans despite some miserable weather and awkward locations. Spotted among them in the lanes on stage 1, 1991 Bira winner Joane Somarriba. From further afield, a more recent champion was also watching.
Virtuous Rider of the Week
Over in the Giro threads there’s been some dismay at riders’ apparent disregard for the supposed ‘greenest Giro ever’. The men’s peloton evidently needs an Audrey Cordon-Ragot, not slow to remind riders of their environmental responsibilities and not just on social media either. Though, as Audrey points out, maybe the commissaires should just apply the rules too.
Another week, another leader. This time Bethinho tops the league, propelled by the combined forces of Spratt, Paladin, Wiles and Koppenburg.
Vlady has finally been toppled by Yeehoo, though with this week’s results still pending things may change. Look out for ELB’s draft owner Jens making a move.
Still making a fine effort in all competitions, Vlady narrowly prevented Mr Verbiage from making it three races out of three at Bira. Frans still leads overall, however.
Next race: Couple of weeks off for Thüringen and other excellent if non-WWT racing. We reconvene for the Women’s Tour (WWT 13), starting 10 June.