Tag Archives: women’s cycling

Ferrand-Prevot: undeniably the new star of women’s cycling

In the end it was just a few pedal strokes too far for Marianne Vos, and the rainbow jersey was seized by one of cycling’s most exciting emergent forces, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot.

The Frenchwoman, who at just 22 has been the revelation of the 2014 season, didn’t need to be asked twice, and launched herself off the wheel of a fading Vos with 100m to race. It was just enough to hold off a fast finishing Lisa Brennauer and Emma Johansson, with two-time World Champion Giorgia Bronzini a close 4th.

Australia’s leader Tiffany Cromwell rode brilliantly to finish 5th.

You could say Ferrand-Prevot relied on an element of luck to catch the elite group of Vos, Lizzie Armitstead, Emma Johansson and Elisa Longo-Borghini, who had broken clear over the final climb of the day.

But in the last two kilometres, the four leaders – all of whom were amongst the pre-race favourites, with the expectation that brings – were more intent on avoiding leading each other out than they were on staying in front of the chasers. It was one for students of game theory: cooperation would have ensured success for one, but certain defeat for whoever cooperated most.

It was not to be. All four soft-pedalled and the second group, driven by the Germans who had two riders present, pulled themselves and (crucially) Ferrand-Prevot back into the race.

This was Ferrand-Prevot’s luck, but winning a bike race always relies on an element of it. Her opponents’ blackjack games went bust and she played the hand she had. Don’t forget she still had to win the sprint against some of the best in the world.

It’s not as if her win was a surprise, either. Last week at The Roar I named her as the biggest threat to her Rabo-Liv trade teammate Vos, and if I knew that then you could bet your house that every woman in the race knew.

This year she’s won Fleche-Wallonne and Emakumeen Euskal Bira (a four-stage race in the Basque Country, where she also won two stages). She was second overall in the women’s Giro, and has only been outside the top 5 in a road race five times this season. One of those was La Course, where she crashed.

Ferrand-Prevot has been around for a few years, and won the World Junior road race title in 2010, but this year she’s has raised her results in the pro peloton from top ten or fifteen to being a consistent podium placer, and there’s been a sense that there’s lots of improvement still to come.

You see, what makes Ferrand-Prevot really interesting is her versatility. She’s the French National Champion in the road race and the time trial.

And cyclocross.

And cross-country mountain-biking.

She’s a freak. Along with her outstanding road season, she’s been racing mountain bikes all year. Three of those national titles were won in a four week period, in July. It’s not as if she jumps off the road bike in winter and hits the CX course for some off-season fitness (although she does that, too). Nope, she races road and MTB in parallel, and she plans to continue.

As for Marianne Vos, it was easily her worst result in a World Championships. For whatever reason, it seems that her lack of form in the team time trial had not fully resolved, and she didn’t have the legs to dominate as we have seen her do in the past. Perhaps the strength of her team – diminished here by national allegiances and last week’s crash – has been even more important this season than we thought.

Vos was able to follow Lizzie Armitstead’s vicious attack on the final climb, but she looked laboured doing so, head down and shoulders rocking. In the run to the finish she was hesitant, then seemed to panic when she opened up the sprint more than 300m from the line. It was too early, and she was swept up easily. Probably this is good for the sport, to see that she is human after all.

Before I wind this up, I want to comment on the discussion about whether or not it was a boring race. SBS Cycling Central blogger Anthony Tan lit the fuse, calling it “a three-and-a-half hour advertisement on why we shouldn’t watch”, retroactively undermining his network’s decision to broadcast the race live on SBS One. His argument is that virtually nothing happened until the last two laps, that there was not enough impetuosity, which reflects poorly on women’s cycling.

My view is that we’ve definitely seen more exciting televised racing this season, at La Course and during the Women’s Tour (of Britain), but that it’s the wrong way to look at it. Of course it’s unsurprising that there were no impetuous (a euphemism for tactical suicide?) attacks, given the combination of a challenging parcours and smaller national teams with less depth, that provide fewer tactical options compared to some of the powerful trade teams.

But cherry-picking one conservative race and arguing that it’s a reason to stop supporting televised women’s racing, especially without really considering why tactics were so, is a sloppy argument.

If you happened to watch the men’s race, which had a live-stream for virtually the entire race, you will realise why most TV coverage avoids the boring first two-thirds of most races – it was also a complete snorefest until the last 60km (or 25% of the race) when the Italians decided to rip everyone’s legs off (including their own).

Hard courses make riders cautious, which means there will be long periods when the race is left to tick along without much incident. Most times, we never even see the long build-up, because the broadcasters know how unlikely it is to be compelling viewing.

So yes, the women’s road race was ridden conservatively until the final stages, but that happened in every road race of the week – singling out one race for special criticism seems unfair to me. If anything, the organisers should be blamed for designing a course that encouraged dull racing. SBS deserves praise for broadcasting the race live. I hope they don’t lose their nerve because of a few snarky comments.

We now have a new wearer of the rainbow jersey. She has the ability and image to captivate audiences, and build on the momentum that women’s cycling has gathered with the UCI’s support this year. A few cheap shots shouldn’t muddle that.

Chapeau to Pauline Ferrand-Prevot.

Update: Bridie O’Donnell, who understands and communicates women’s racing as well as anyone and better than most, has ripped in with a far more detailed analysis than I have done – go and read it.

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Specialized-Lululemon pulverize the other women in Ponferrada

Well, what can you say about a team that wins the World Championship by over a minute? Absolutely dominant.

Specialized-Lululemon smashed the 36km course at an average speed of 49.8 km/h – my quads just cramped up from typing that – and nobody else came close.

Orica-AIS rode an excellent race to finish with the silver medal, an improvement on last year’s bronze. All that endurance track talent is paying off!

However, it was a rare disaster for the Rabo-Liv team, with the team crashing spectacularly out of the race, with Anna Van der Breggen and Annemiek Van Vleuten requiring visits to hospital.

Even more shocking, superstar Marianne Vos had already been dropped, seemingly unable to match her team’s pace. With Vos showing uncharacteristic weakness, and two key support riders injured, the Dutch tilt at the road race later this week looks a lot less unstoppable than it did a few days ago.

Now, nobody wants to see crashes, but as they go, this one was an absolute belter. Have a look at the video below. The crash is at 4’40”.

Ow.

How do you solve a problem like Marianne Vos?

It was one of the most dominant performances you will ever see from a professional cycling team in a major race.

Three riders on the final podium; the top four places in the points competition; four out of the top seven places in the mountains jersey; and winning six out of ten stages for the race.

That was the Rabo-Liv women’s team in the Giro Rosa this week.

Marianne Vos was the chief destroyer, winning the overall, the points jersey and a lazy four stages. Such was Vos’ consistency throughout the ten days in Italy, she was only off the podium twice in ten stages.

How do you deal with a problem like Marianne Vos? Her results were: 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 5th, 1st, 1st, 3rd, 1st, 6th, 3rd.

Honestly, that is a phenomenal performance. Vos has won so many World Championships it’s difficult to be surprised by her ability to win, but she continues to improve.

The really scary thought is that even without the Dutch superstar, her Ravo-Liv team would still have utterly dominated the race. Annemiek van Vleuten, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot and Anna van der Breggen contributed their own results, and as a team they were simply unstoppable.

Britain’s Emma Pooley (Lotto-Belisol) was the only rider to consistently challenge the Rabo-Liv hegemony, winning three mountain stages in fine style, and dominating the mountains jersey, scoring nearly double the points of her nearest rival, Valentina Scandolara of Orica-AIS.

But with so many options it was impossible for other teams to mark all of Rabo-Liv’s danger women. How can you compete tactically against a team with such strength and depth?

Rabo-Liv is stacked with time triallists, sprinters and climbers, and can handle almost any race situation. The team can keep punching well after its rival teams have thrown in the towel.

In 2013 Vos won three Giro stages and the points jersey, but the GC went to Mara Abbott (4th in 2014), and the minor placings were spread around multiple teams.

This year: almost total Rabo-pwnage.

Much more of this and we might need a salary cap in women’s pro cycling, to make things more even!

(Just kidding, that’s the opposite of what’s really needed).

No, the bar has been raised by Rabo-Liv, and the other teams will need to find ways of lifting their own level to match them.

As you would expect by now, there were plenty of Aussie women racing in Italy this week.

Katrin Garfoot (Orica-AIS) was the best-placed Australian, in 28th. Garfoot only signed with the team in June, and has only been racing seriously for a couple of years, so that’s a great result.

Tiffany Cromwell (Specialized-Lululemon) was 29th, Shara Gillow (Orica-AIS) 34th, Peta Mullens (Wiggle-Honda) 43rd, Amanda Spratt (Orica-AIS) 45th, Carla Ryan (Ale-Cipollini) 62nd, Melissa Hoskins (Orica-AIS) 79th, Jessie McLean (Orica-AIS) 85th, Chloe Hosking (Hitec Products) 92nd, and Lauren Kitchen (Hitec Products) 117th.

Most of the Australian riders were riding in support of team leaders with GC ambitions: Orica-AIS had Emma Johansson high in the GC; and Hitec Products were protecting Elisa Longo-Borghini.

Melissa Hoskins was 5th in the prologue (great preparation for her Commonwealth Games track campaign) and 7th in stage 2.

Chloe Hosking, who writes one of the best race blogs you will read was 5th in stage 5, and even managed to emulate Adam Hansen by sculling a beer mid-race on the climb to the finish of stage 8.

So that was the women’s Giro for 2014. An intense week of dominance from the Rabo-Liv team, which will raise some serious questions for rivals leading into this week’s Thuringen Rundfahrt stage race, and the La Course at the Tour de France.

The Women’s Tour is a step towards equality, but it’s not the end game

This week is an important milestone in women’s professional cycling, with the inaugural Women’s Tour starting on Wednesday.

Don’t be confused by the name, this is not a Women’s Tour de France. Rather, it’s the Women’s Tour of Britain, a five-stage race in the East Midlands of England.

Dani King (L) and Lucy Garner with the Women's Tour leader's jersey.
Dani King (L) and Lucy Garner with the Women’s Tour leader’s jersey.

Why is it so important? Well, the organisers (who are also in charge of the men’s Tour of Britain) have gone all out to produce a race of the highest professionalism. As the race director, Mick Bennett puts it in his introduction to the race handbook,

“Welcome to the 2014 Women’s Tour – the first edition of what we hope and believe will be a cycling event that sets new standards for the fair and equal treatment of women cyclists not only in Great Britain but the world.”

It’s a lofty goal, and to its credit the race has gained good support from local sponsors, and pretty good media coverage, which is vitally important for team sponsors.

There’s an hour of TV coverage every day, on free-to-air TV in the UK through ITV (also available online).

Australian fans with pay-TV can watch the daily highlights package each morning on Eurosport.

The official Twitter account @thewomenstour will be providing live updates during the race.

There’s also the all-important prize money, totalling €30,000.

So this race is easily a big enough deal to attract almost all of the big teams in women’s cycling, and almost all of the top riders.

The parcours is a mix of flat stages with a couple of classics-type rollers thrown in.

That part of England isn’t particularly hilly, so there’s not a huge amount of climbing, but enough to create selections.

I expect the GC to be decided in stage 4, a shark-toothed stage with a short climb a few kilometres from the finish in Welwyn Garden City, but the gaps won’t be large.

Marianne Vos will lead her Liv Giant squad, and despite a quiet start to her road season, she should be the hot favourite for overall victory. If you don’t know who Vos is, many consider her the greatest cyclist, male or female, ever.

Vos has won 12 world championships and two Olympic gold medals, on the road, the track and cyclocross. She hasn’t finished worse than 2nd in the World Championships road race since 2006. She has won seven cyclocross world championships, including this year. She’s the Olympic road race champion. She’s won the women’s Giro d’Italia twice, the Flèche Wallonne four times, Ronde van Vlaanderen, and just about everything else.

On the bike, Vos has the attributes of some diabolical combination of Fabian Cancellara, Cadel Evans, Sven Nys and Mark Cavendish.

And she’s still only 26 years old.

Among the leading contenders to beat Vos will be Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead, of Boels-Dolmans, who leads the UCI World Cup competition. Her teammate Ellen van Dijk has also been one of the strongest riders this season.

Emma Johansson of Orica-AIS, Linda Villumsen or Giorgia Bronzini of Wiggle-Honda, and Elisa Longo Borghini of Hitec Products will also be dangerous.

As you would expect, there’s a strong Australian contingent: Shara Gillow, Nettie Edmondson and Australian champion Gracie Elvin are riding for Orica-AIS; Chloe Hosking for Hitec Products (Chloe has written about the Women’s Tour on her blog); Tiffany Cromwell for Specialized-Lululemon; Amy Cure for Lotto-Belisol; and Peta Mullens as a late inclusion for Wiggle-Honda.

However, the representation of British riders is astonishing. Over the last decade British Cycling has had an incredible knack for producing champion track cyclists, and clearly this is transferring to success on the road.

Aside from the well known riders like Armitstead, Emma Pooley, and Laura Trott, there is a Great Britain national development team, and the Matrix-Vulpine squad drawn from the ranks of the UK domestic scene.

The race organisers fully intend to use this event to engage local women in sport, and really drive home the benefits of increased participation. As Bennetts writes in the race handbook,

“Every stage town is organising a sports festival targeted at attracting young women to engage more widely in sport, healthy living and cycling in particular. These young people will be looking to our race participants as their role models for the future”.

Participation is important, but at the elite level it needs to be about providing opportunities for women to make a living from their sport.

Today, only a very few are able to do so, and one race won’t change that.

Nevertheless, the Women’s Tour of Britain is a big step towards greater equality, and it’s important that it’s a sporting as well as financial success, as an example to other race organisers and governing bodies.

Hopefully, it’s a sign that elite female riders are finally being taken seriously and treated properly by race organisers and media partners.

A five-stage race isn’t unprecedented, and it shouldn’t be unusual. There is still a long way to go before women’s professional cycling reaches the status it deserves.

However, that this event is happening at all is reward for many years of hard work from many people, women and men, and I hope it receives the public support it deserves.

For more information on the Women’s Tour the offical site is http://www.womenstour.co.uk/

Also check out Sarah Connolly’s blog for information on how to follow the race, http://prowomenscycling.com/2014/05/04/womens-tour-of-britain-2014-live/

This piece was originally published on The Roar.

Van Dijk smashed Flanders, but Belgian TV dropped the ball

It took a remarkable individual performance from a time trial champion to win the Ronde van Vlaanderen. A dominant ride combining raw power, skill over the cobbles, and plenty of panache.

Of course, I’m talking about Ellen Van Dijk, who smashed the women’s race apart with a solo attack 27km from the finish, holding off a powerful chasing group to win by a minute.

It was a performance that typified all that is good and right about racing in Flanders.

Then in a textbook team performance, Van Dijk’s Boels-Dolmans teammate Lizzie Armitstead defeated Orica-AIS leader Emma Johansson in the sprint for 2nd, to retain her lead in the UCI World Cup series.

Australia’s Tiffany Cromwell (Specialized-Lululemon) finished 9th.

The women’s Ronde is one of the few races on the women’s calendar that takes place simultaneously with the men’s race, on the same (albeit shortened) course. The women race over most of the same climbs, the same cobbled sectors, and finish at the same spot, about 90 minutes before the men.

The race itself is a pretty good example of how to improve equality between women’s and men’s races. Even the podium presentation was held at the same time as the men’s – something that Van Dijk was obviously overjoyed with:

So yes, the Tour of Flanders is a really big deal in women’s cycling. As Australian Champion Gracie Elvin wrote in her rather excellent race review for Cycling Tips,

“The race is special for us not just because of the history of the roads, but because it comes second to none for the crowd.

We don’t get to experience the craziness of the Grand Tours like the men, so for one day of the year we soak up the craziness of the Belgian fans hollering over the fences for any rider in any kit.”

Important races in front of huge crowds are exactly what is needed to improve the financial situation and viability of women’s road racing. It’s becoming a cliché, but this was a perfect showcase for women’s racing!

Sadly, the Belgian host broadcaster completely ignored the race, despite the presence of cameras, production staff and broadcast infrastructure.

Fans were crying out for coverage, updates, information.

But there was no live television. No online feed. Big problem.

Maybe I’m just cranky from sleep deprivation, but we’ve been beating this drum for a while now, in time with plenty of others, and it was yet another huge missed opportunity, while the demand for televised women’s road racing continues to grow.

By now, the standard response to the lack of TV coverage is some tired variation on, ‘Yes, but there’s not enough interest and producing a live telecast is expensive’, but the online clamour for information demonstrates how absurd this position is.

During the race, the demand for updates via Twitter was huge. Tweets from the official Ronde account, from teams and their management on the course (Wiggle-Honda boss Rochelle Gilmore  was a popular example) were being retweeted around the world.

And let’s not forget that all the television infrastructure and personnel were in place. The extra cost would’ve been minimal.

The host broadcaster missed a trick. Someone failed to sniff the winds of change at the UCI, and amongst the fans.

Eurosport commentator Carlton Kirby was clearly exasperated at the lack of footage, but he did manage to call Van Dijk crossing the line, live from his box at the finish. Sadly there were no live (or near-live) pictures showing Van Dijk’s attack or its result.

Kirby was not the only Eurosport commentator annoyed. His colleague Anthony McCrossan tweeted:

SBS Cycling presenter Mike Tomalaris suggested one possible reason:

I find it pretty hard to disagree with Tomo’s assessment. Ignoring the women’s race is blatant sexism. You wouldn’t see it happen in athletics, swimming, or triathlon.

Can you imagine if Channel 7 decided not to broadcast the women’s final at the Australian Open?

The UCI did publish a seven-minute online highlights package of the race, but compared to the hours of live streaming and broadcast of the men’s race, this is slim pickings.

So once again we’re left raising our hats to a wonderful performance from a brilliant athlete, or rather a whole peloton of brilliant athletes, and cursing the lack of coverage available. It’s time for the UCI to demand more from its host broadcasters.

This piece was originally published on The Roar.