In cycling as in investing, successes from the past are no guarantee for the future. But they aren’t completely meaningless either. So what do the performances of the past few weeks tell us for this weekend? Since few media ever bother to preview the women’s race, I thought I’d do that first. So today the women’s race, tomorrow the men’s.
First off, since many of the top women road racers also do the time trial (much more so than on the men’s side), Tuesday’s TT tells us quite a bit. Arndt was superstrong, and likely will be able to translate that to the road race. That could see her in a small break and if everything is still together, the Germans have a super-impressive lead-out for Ina Yoko Teutenberg (they also have for example Charlotte Becker for that). Since Teutenberg, Becker and Arndt have ridden together the entire season at HTC, not just in the national team, this is a difficult nut to crack.
One country that could possibly break the German dominance is Great Britain. Emma Pooley’s third place finish at the TT has not gotten the credit it deserves, as given the circumstances (dead flat, strong winds) it was the stand-out performance of the day. Many may view the defending champion finishing third as a disappointment, but when Marianne Vos complains that she was too light to perform on that course in that wind and Emma, who was the smallest contender in the TT by a country mile, finishes third, that’s a good indication she’s on form. Add to that her win in the Tour de l’Ardeche and it’s clear she’s ready.
Expect Emma to place one of her trademark solo attacks. And while the other teams work to bring her back, fast finishers Nicole Cooke and Lizzie Armistead can relax. The Germans may have trouble controlling the race if Nicole Cooke is on form and tries something in the closing kilometers, especially if the field is thinned out considerably by then. But how well Cooke’s form is is anybody’s guess.
The Americans disappointed on the TT, which after the bickering about who should be allowed to race was hardly a surprise. It’s hard to see how they can do better in the road race, as team work will be extremely important on this course. Their continent-counterparts from Canada performed extremely well in the TT, but both Whitten and Hughes are true TT specialists (not surprising given their backgrounds of track cycling and speed skating).
But don’t forget that Clara Hughes was a very successful cyclist BEFORE she was a very successful speed skater. She already medalled at the Atlanta Olympics. The only person Clara can outsprint is probably Andy Schleck, so she’ll need to think of something special. On this course, that may be a long shot.
On the other end of the fast-twitch-fiber-spectrum we have Italy. With Bronzini as their top sprinter and young Elena Cecchini quickly climbing the ranks, they could spell trouble for Teutenberg and Armistead. Whether they will ride as a team is the perennial question. Emilia Fahlin is also among the faster finishers, plus she has good endurance and TT skills. She could launch an attach with 50, 5 or 0.5k to go, or rely on her sprint. She’s won stages in the Tour de l’Ardeche recently, so she’s definitely on form.
The great thing about women’s cycling is its unpredictability. Above we have a dozen or so contenders, and we haven’t even discussed the woman who has won everything this year: Marianne Vos (everything except that TT on Tuesday of course). Vos has finished second in the World Championship Road Race for the past four years. Imagine that, Silver four years in a row.
She definitely doesn’t want to win another Silver, and somehow I doubt taking the Bronze is the solution she came up with. So expect a very motivated Vos. Maybe the season is too long, maybe the TT indicated she’s not on top form, but only a fool would write her off. Like Fahlin, she can win any which way she wants, but unlike Fahlin, she’s done so many, many times at the absolute highest level of the sport.
While everybody may be watching Vos’ orange jersey, it’s the orange of VanVleuten that should not be ignored. She’s really broken through this year and proven she is a force to be reckoned with in the one-day races. Fahlin also has a countrywoman to be reckoned with in Emma Johansson (thanks to @Campy007 for pointing out my failure to mention her).
Even if you don’t normally follow cycling, pick your favorite and watch it. This course in Copenhagen may very well make for a better women’s than men’s race. And with most countries having two contenders with very different skills, the tactics are bound to become a difficult puzzle to solve.