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In just a few hours the elite women will take to the world championship road race course in Ponferrada, Spain, to decide who will wear the rainbow jersey for the next 12 months. CyclingTips editor Matt de Neef put together this preview of the race, looking at some of the favourites and some riders who might shake things up.
Unlike recent world championship road race courses, which have featured a long opening section before laps of a closing circuit, the Ponferrada road races are held entirely on an 18.2km circuit around the town.
The elite women tackle seven laps of the course for a total of 127.4km and 2,142m of climbing. That’s more than in last year’s Worlds road race in Tuscany, but the climbs of Ponferrada are gentler (and therefore less selective) than in Tuscany.
After an initial flat section there’s a short, steep climb before the road flattens out briefly. The 5.2km climb that follows is only gentle, but the descent on the other side, down to the dam wall, is technical. There’s then another couple of kilometres of climbing — this section steeper than the longer, earlier climb — before a technical descent towards the finish. The road does flatten out slightly in the final kilometre but overall there’s very little flat road on this circuit.
How it might play out
In the two road races we’ve seen on this circuit so far (at the time of writing), there have been two different outcomes. In the junior women’s race it came down to a bunch sprint, albeit from a slightly reduced group, and in the U23 men’s race on Friday, a solo attack on the last climb of the last lap saw Norway’s Sven Erik Bystrom hold off the bunch by seven seconds.
While almost anything could happen in the elite women’s race, the most likely scenario would seem to be an elite, reduced bunch reaching the finish together and sprinting for gold. The repeated climbs will see a thinning of the bunch each lap, with the final selection coming in the last lap.
It could also be that the final lap sees a single rider get clear, much like Marianne Vos did on the final climb of last year’s race. While the climbs aren’t as hard as last year’s course, the technical descent to the finish is likely to give the advantage to any rider that can reach the top of the final climb with a small gap on the rest of her competitors.
Any time Marianne Vos is on the startlist for a big race it is worth listing her among the favourites, such is her palmares, her experience and her versatility, not to mention her hunger for big victories. Vos would normally be the clear favourite for today’s race, but she comes into the race seemingly a little way off her best. She was dropped by her teammates in the TTT earlier in the week and Lizzie Armitstead told the UK press this week that she thinks Vos is genuinely vulnerable this time around.
“She is the one to beat and her form hasn’t been great the last couple of weeks”, Armitstead told The Independent. “I don’t think it’s a show like some people have suggested. She’s genuinely not in her best shape.”
Even if Vos isn’t at her best, she will still almost certainly be in the mix when the race heats up in the final laps. And if she doesn’t win, it doesn’t mean the Netherlands won’t take home a gold medal. Chantal Blaak, Lucinda Brand, Ellen van Dijk, Iris Slappendel … they’re all fearsome names with big wins to their names in 2014, and only part of the nine-strong Dutch squad on the startline (the only team with nine riders).
Lizzie Armitstead comes into the race as one of the big favourites, having won gold at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games for England a few months ago. She also won the opening World Cup of the season, the Ronde van Drenthe, and has been a consistent performer throughout the year. If it comes down to a small group at the end, expect Armitstead to be there, and for her to be in amongst it in the sprint.
There are few more consistent riders in the women’s peloton than Emma Johansson. The Swedish national ITT and road race champion has finished in the top 10 on 57 occasions this season. Or putting it another way, she only finished outside the top 10 in 13 UCI races that she’s competed in this year. There’s no reason to think Johansson won’t be in the top 10 again today, but she’ll need to be at her very best to overpower the likes of Armitstead and others to improve on her silver medal from last year.
Pauline Ferrand-Prevot has had a tremendous season and won a handful of big races — Fleche Wallonne and Emakumeen Euskal Bira — and should be challenging for a top-five finish. But she’s not racing with Rabo-Liv today and while the French line-up certainly has some other big names (Audrey Cordon and Elise Delzenne), it’s not the star-studded Rabo-Liv line-up that has been sweeping podiums throughout the year. It will be interesting to see if PFP gets isolated as the race heats up, or whether her class will shine through and it won’t really matter.
If any of the sprinters is likely to make it through the 2,000m of climbing to contest the finale it’s Giorgia Bronzini. Watch for the Italian speedster late in the race but as mentioned below, she’s only one of several cards the Italians have to play.
The outsiders and the aggressors
Australia might not have a five-star favourite like Lizzie Armitstead, but the green and gold will almost certainly be visible near and off the front of the peloton during today’s race. Carlee Taylor did an immense amount of work in last year’s Worlds road race to help position Tiff Cromwell for the finale, and you can expect to see the same again in Ponferrada. Crowell will be looking to bide her time before making the right move in the closing stages. 2012 silver medallist Rachel Neylan returns to the squad and will provide valuable experience and support as well.
Rosella Ratto was everywhere in the closing stages of last year’s race and last year’s bronze medallist is just one of several Italians that can be expected to light the race up. Adopted Aussie Valentina Scandolara will likely be on the attack at some stage (or stages), and Elisa Longo Bhorgini will be in the mix for Italy as the peloton thins out as well.
Belarusian national champion Alena Amialiusik only has the benefit of one teammate on the startline but she has had another impressive season and will be one to watch in the final laps. And don’t look past Team USA. Evelyn Stevens has been in tremendous form of late, winning the Boels Rental Ladies Tour earlier this month and Thuringen Rundfahrt back in July. She’s got a strong team around her — including Mara Abbott, Megan Guarnier and Alison Powers — and should feature in the closing stages of the race.
Of course these are just a handful of the riders that could make an impression on today’s race. Click here for the official startlist and tell us in the comments if you think there’s someone else that could take out the win.
How to watch the race
The elite women’s road race will be streaming live through the UCI’s YouTube channel. If the stream is geoblocked in your country, visit the UCI website to find out how to watch the race from your location. You can also follow the race on Twitter using the hashtag #Ponferrada2014.
Who do you think will win the elite women’s world championship road race? And why?