The UCI Women’s World Tour – what do the riders think?

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Anticipation for the Women’s World Tour is high. It won’t be long till the start of the series with Strade Bianche on March 4. Following on from the Voxwomen’s Guide to the WWT, I thought it would be interesting to get some inside perspective on the races from riders, writes Sharon Laws. 

After a very strong cross season and a silver medal at the Cyclo-cross World Championships, Marianne Vos (WM3 Pro Cycling Team) demonstrated she is back at the top level again and no doubt eager to start the road season with her new team.

She said: “After three years without a (full) spring season, I’m looking forward to starting this year early and with all the big races on the schedule. I’m not aiming for the WWT classification in particular, but I would like to keep a consistent level throughout the whole season. Of course the World Tour races will be the ones that stand out on the calendar. I’m especially excited for the Strade Bianche. 

“I haven’t done the previous two editions, but since it’s on the roster it makes my CX heart run faster. After the ‘Flemish Classics’, we also have the full ‘Wallonian week’. As a Dutch I’m very proud to be racing the Amstel Gold Race with the finish on the Cauberg. After Flèche Wallonne, it’s time for Liege -Bastogne-Liege, which has always been one of my favourite iconic races to watch, so it will be special to ride it this year. Let’s not forget about all the other longer existing races, because they’ve been there to support women’s cycling from the earlier ages. They’ve made the effort to help our beloved sport grow to where it’s now. Ronde van Drenthe, Trofeo Binda, Giro Rosa, Vårgårda, Holland Ladies Tour: all worth some good notes!”

Even though it may not be her focus. I expect Marianne to be a serious contender for the jersey.

Annemiek Van Vleuten (Orica Scott) surprised everyone by attacking Mara Abbott on the hilly Rio Olympic Course last year and combined with her amazing TT and prologue abilities and fast finish, I expect we will see her on the podium more than once this season.

She said: “I am not interested in the overall WWT classification. I like  more to target every race to win and not racing for points. Winning a WWT race is way nicer than winning just the classifcation. I was lucky I did win three World Cups in 2011 that resulted in the overall win of the World Cup – that was super nice.”

Annemiek is most looking forward to Amstel Gold, as she continued: “I was hoping and asking already for so long that they would organise it again for women, it’s in my home country and on a course I like and suits me: I am excited!”

Lucinda Brand had a solo win in the opening European race of the 2017 season, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad for her new team, Sunweb. Lucinda excels in the technical, hectic races and I’m expecting her to be strong in all the Classics.

Of her expectations for the WWT she said, “‘It’s always difficult to give a prediction before the season has started. But I think it will be an interesting competition. A few new races and some team changes. I think we can expect a nice battle between the teams, which will result in different winners.” And Lucinda is excited for Strade Bianche: “I did this race two times now and I really like the course. The dirt sections and climbs are making it a tough, interesting and different race.”

Lotta Lepistö, (Cervélo–Bigla Pro Cycling) had an incredible 2016 with numerous victories and podiums and wrapped up the season with a bronze medal at the World Championships in Qatar. As a former team-mate, I have high expectations for Lotta in 2017, particularly at the Tour of Chongming Island, Ride London and the Madrid Challenge. She will be taking the same approach as Annemiek, saying she is going into each race as if it is the last of her career.

She said: “I will race as hard as I can and I hope there is some success for the team coming.” Lotta is most looking forward to Flanders and the Women’s Tour because “they are full of spectators and the atmosphere is amazing.”

Alexis Ryan (Canyon Sram) started her season impressively by winning the young rider’s jersey at the Santos Women’s Tour in Australia in January. I think we will be seeing a lot more from Alexis this year. She is expecting “an extremely competitive peloton, one unprecedented post-Olympics, to liven up the WWT.”

Alexis went on to say: “new teams, rider transfers, and a general increase in field depth have evenly spread the playing field. I do not think there will be one dominant team this season, but rather a vigorous battle among many teams.”

She is excited for all of the major one-day classics, but for her, the two standout races—“because they are new and shiny”—are Amstel Gold and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Karol-ann Canuel is a member of the dominant Boels Dolmans squad, which won the WWT team classification in 2016 in addition to 16 victories. A strong time-trialist, she also was part of the team that took the gold medal at the World Championships TTT in Qatar. Karol-ann said “I would hope people could stream the races in 2017. I’m excited to race again with Boels Dolmans this year. I hope we will be able to get some good results again.  I think we have a great team and I’m looking forward to race with my teammates.”

She went on to say “I am really excited about the new Ardennes races. I think they are a great addition to our calendar that will make exciting racing.”

After a horrific crash during training in Girona, Molly Weaver (Sunweb) will have a later start to the season than planned. Adapting her goals accordingly, she said: “I was really looking forward to racing Strade Bianche again, and it’ll be very interesting to see how Liege-Bastogne-Liege plays out as well. But looking ahead it’s hard to see past the Women’s Tour – not just because it’s a home race for me, but because it’s simply the best run and supported stage race on the calendar.” 

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Molly is expecting the quality of races, in terms of organisation, courses and coverage, to make another leap forward in 2017.

Teams across the board are stepping up, with better preparation and levels of professionalism. It looks like a lot of teams will be in a position to compete for wins and make for more exciting racing.”

Kirsten Wild hit the ground running, with her new team Cylance Pro-cycling, winning two stages and finishing third in the GC at the Santos Women’s Tour in Australia. In 2016 she focused on the track, in preparation for the Olympic Games, but I think she will be a force to be reckoned with in the flat races this season. Kirsten spoke positively about the WWT saying: “It’s great to see there are again new races added to the roster of the WWT. The level of races and competitors is really high. And I think people can watch some really attractive races.

As a sprinter I am looking forward for the ‘sprinter-races’, like Chongming Island, Drenthe and Sweden. But of course I like also races like Tour of California and it’s always so cool to race in de Ronde van Vlaanderen.”

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At the end of last year Carmen Small completed the UCI Sports Directors course and will be riding as a mentor for Team Velo Concept Women, as she makes the transition to becoming a Sports Director. After a tough season in 2016, missing out on competing at the Olympic Games, Carmen is looking forward to regaining her enjoyment, passion and love for the sport.

The American said: “I want to be able to mentor the younger athletes and newcomers to the sport and share what I have learned throughout the years with them. I want to really focus on the basics and learn how to become a great Director.”

As it will be her last season she is looking forward to all the races, and wants to “really enjoy and take everything in and not miss a thing.”

Lucy Garner, riding for Wiggle High5 for the second year in 2017 and now alongside her sister Grace, is also expecting the racing to make another step up from 2016.

She said: “It was all new last year so now the teams have more knowledge and experience to move forward and get results in 2017.”

Lucy likes the WWT as there are so many different types of races giving “all types of riders the opportunity to win a world tour race”. Missing out on racing the Women’s Tour in 2016 due to broken ribs, Lucy would really love to be back racing on home soil again this season. Of the 2015 edition she said “the amount of support we got out on the roads made it a spectacular stage race.”

Emilia Fahlin returns to Wiggle High5 this season, after racing for Ale Cipollini in 2016. She said ‘“I expect the 2017 WWT to be an exciting one! Few new tough races added to the series I think will be good, and in general will be a great addition for the women to make some great battles on classic ground!”

Emilia found it hard to pick one stand out race although she loves the classics: “It’s an ecstatic atmosphere and courses that really have it all that makes them so special! So something like Flanders is always a good show! And I always love to come home to the race in Vårgårda and I do look forward to another WWT on Nordic grounds in Norway.” Emilia had a dream win in her home country at Vårgårda last year and I’m expecting we will see more of her at the pointy ends of the races this season. 

In addition to the riders point view, I thought it would be interesting to ask a couple of Sports Directors about their expectations on the 2017 WWT.

Wiggle High5 currently stand second in the UCI team ranking and have a team packed with talent. Personally I anticipate Olympic bronze medalist, Elisa Longo Borghini, to be in contention for the overall WWT jersey and I think Wiggle can challenge Boels Dolmans this season.

I asked Donna Rae Szalinski, Sports Director, for her perspective of the WWT. Donna is expecting fierce competition but said: “Wiggle High5 plans to enter each race with intent and purpose to maximise our potential. Wiggle High5 is a team with the depth of riders to perform in a variety of different race types, including sprint stages, climbing stages, time trials and tours. This allows the team to share the load and not rely on one or two riders to achieve results. The riders are very committed to the team and work diligently together to optimise every opportunity.”

When asked which race they were most looking forward to, Donna said: “Every race in the WWT has special characteristics and challenges so we are looking forward to all events. With a multi-national team it creates unique opportunities in many of the WWT events. Our Italian riders Giorgia Bronzini and Elisa Longo Borghini have an affinity for the Giro, particularly as it is the only extended tour of the series. Similarly our Belgian rep Jolien D’Hoore has a passion for the spring classics and Emilia Fahlin for the WWT races in her native Sweden.”

In contrast to Wiggle High5 (which started in 2013) Drops Cycling is one of the new kids on the block. A British domestic team in 2015 they became UCI registered last year. With international additions of Ann-Sophie Duyck (Belgium), Susanna Zorzi (Italy), Martina Ritter (Austria) and Under 23 British National Champion Alice Barnes, I’m expecting them to step up another level this season.

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The team showed its intent finishing second team on the GC at the Santos Women’s Tour in Australia in January. At position 22 in the UCI team rankings, they fall just outside the magic 20, critical for automatic entry to the WWT races. I asked Team Manager, Bob Varney, what implications this has.

He said: “We were desperate to be within the top twenty teams on the first world ranking of the year. Last year our points total would have seen us in 18th place. However, in reality, we have only missed out on Amstel Gold and we will participate in all of the other major races on the world calendar. With an increase in the number of high profile races on the women’s calendar, it’s vital for any ambitious team to be invited to as many of these races as possible. We are targeting a win in a UCI race, to podium at a WWT race and an automatic qualification into the WWT for 2018.”

Thank you to all those named in this blog who took the time to answer my questions and share their views. Let’s get this WWT underway!

TT in Bira