Sarah Connolly reports on a tough week for women’s pro cycling, with more races disappearing and some truly excellent riders now out of the peloton due to accidents.
This is the downside of following elite women’s cycling. Accidents are always horrible; it’s sometimes easy to forget that cycling at the top levels is dangerous. But there’s been a consistent pattern developing over recent years, where we’re losing race days at an alarming rate, something needs to be done to change this.
The first “lost" race is the Raboster Zeeuwsche Eilanden, a three-day race in the Zeeland province of the Netherlands. Known for its spectacular North Sea scenery, cobbles, wind and hard, flat racing, race organisers have been forced to cancel due to sponsors pulling out, including Rabobank. It’s worthwhile noting that the organisers are seeking sponsorship to resurrect the race for 2014.
The second race, the Exergy Tour, has been cancelled after just one year. It was a stage race in the USA, and had been given the highest HC status by the UCI. The race is owned by the Exergy Development Group, a company that had well-publicised issues last year over late and missed payments to a whole range of American races and teams – the company says they’ve had to cancel this year, as no other sponsor would join them in supporting the race, but truthfully, with the company’s history, that’s not surprising.
As for the accidents, the biggest piece of bad news is Sharon Laws’ crash in the South African Cape Argus race last week. The British rider, who races for Lotto Belisol on the road, was meant to be starting the Absa Cape Epic MTB stage race this week. Returning for the race’s tenth anniversary after winning the women’s competition in 2004 and 2009, with her racing partner Hanlie Booyens. But, after the crash left Laws with a fractured vertebra and other injuries, clearly that couldn’t happen. Laws is apparently up out of her hospital bed, and we hope she’s healing fast.
Belgian rider Lieselot Decroix (CyclePlus Zannata) has had to cancel her season, after a car crash left her with concussion and a broken shin and calf; while German superstar Ina-Yoko Teutenberg’s concussion from the Drentse 8 has caused her to pull out of all the spring racing. Teutenberg’s Specialized-lululemon teammate, Evelyn Stevens, also has to take some time away from racing, after she had a nasty crash in Saturday’s Classica Città di Padova, losing some teeth and injuring her face. Our best wishes to all the riders, and let’s hope this is the last of the bad news this season.
Despite all that, there was some really good racing. In Padova, a fast, sprint race with 8 laps of a 12.4km circuit, there had been many attempts to derail the bunch sprint specialists, with attacks throughout, including a strong breakaway by BePink’s Alena Amialyusik and Noemi Cantele, only caught with a kilometre to go. But Wiggle Honda had the race under control, and their Italian sprint star, Giorgia Bronzini took a decisive win ahead of Trixi Worrack (Specialized-lululemon) and Marta Tagliaferro (Cipollini-Giordana).
On the other side of Europe, it was the first round of the Coupe de France series, the Cholet-Pays de Loire. This was a race more for the climbers, with two hills on each of the four laps. American-based TIBCO were particularly active in the race, trying to force a bunch sprint for Shelley Olds, but the big story was Emma Johansson.
The Swedish rider has been having the kind of season start that must be intensely frustrating and satisfying at the same time, coming third in all five of the races she’s started in Europe this year – on her website, she said “I’m a bit tired of all this 3rd places. Since the 2008 Olympics my nickname in Sweden has been “Silver Emma" which is not so good… but to turn into “Bronze Emma"… just forget it!"
This time she was doing all she could to turn her luck around. Attacking hard with Vienne Futuroscope’s Audrey Cordon. After they were caught, they started countering Cordon’s final attack, chasing her down and going on to win ahead of the Frenchwoman by 3 seconds, with Lotto’s Jolien d’Hoore winning the sprint for third out of a big chasing bunch, ten seconds behind. Johansson must be delighted to have broken her run of bronzes, but there is something interesting here – she was racing with the Swedish National Team, rather than her trade team, ORICA-AIS! Can she take her winning ways back into her ORICA colours?
We’ll soon find out. On Sunday she’ll be racing the second round of the Road World Cup, the hilly Trofeo Alfredo Binda, in Varese. This is always an exciting race, with a 39-year history, and while Marianne Vos will want to be the first rider ever to win four times, everyone else will want to stop her.
For riders not selected for the Road World Cup series, there’s the women’s edition of Gent-Wevelgem, with typically Flemish cobbles and climbs. It will be a good weekend of racing – here’s to it being safe and accident free.