This week it was all about the mountains for the women's pro-peloton, with tough road racing in the Basque country.
One of the things pro cyclists talk about enjoying is getting to travel and race in all kinds of different places. This week, the women’s pro peloton were in the Basque country, the beautiful province in the north-west of Spain. The races are known for three things;
- the late starts
- the mountains
- the rain
Durango-Durango Emakumeem Saria
Tuesday 4th June
113km one-day race
The Basque mini-season started with a day race, Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria, in uncharacteristically sunny weather. The race started with four hilly laps of a 32km circuit, before two large climbs and a ten-kilometre descent to the finish line.
An eight-rider breakaway formed on the lap section of the race, but the real action came after this. The first big climb split the field to pieces – and a small group of elite climbers, including Ashleigh Moolman (Lotto Belisol) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Hitec Products UCK) got away.
On the descent, they were joined by riders including Evelyn Stevens (Specialized-lululemon), Emma Johansson (ORICA-AIS) and superstar Marianne Vos (Rabobank-Liv/Giant). Then, halfway up the final climb, Stevens attacked. Longo Borghini chased and caught her – and Stevens attacked again, cresting the climb first.
Vos had been dropped on the climb, but she’s one of the best descenders in the world, male or female. She really does seem to have no fear when the roads go downhill, and although Stevens, Longo Borghini, Moolman and Johansson had gained time on her over the climb, she caught them with ease on the final run. Moolman was taken out of contention with a slow puncture, so it came down to a group of four, with fifteen riders chasing furiously behind.
Longo Borghini knew she couldn’t win in a sprint from that group, so she attacked in the final kilometres – and when she was caught, Stevens tried a solo attempt too – but Vos and Johansson wanted that sprint, and the four came into the final approach together.
Desperate to take Vos unawares, Johansson started her sprint at 250m – but Vos was unstoppable, sprinting past her for the win, with Stevens finishing in third place.
Emakumeen Euskal Bira
Thursday 6th - Sunday 9th June
It was the 26th edition of the Emakumeen Bira, a race known for the hills. In the past is used to be famous for an uphill mountain time trial, but although this year’s individual time trial was less brutal than that, it was still one for the mountain goats.
Stage 1 (Iurreta - Iurreta, 91.3km)
Stage 1 included familiar roads around Durango, a relatively gentle introduction to the race, with three climbs, none over 200m. Or rather it would have been if it hadn’t been for some truly awful weather. A huge hailstorm hit the area just half an hour before the race started, and although the worst was over when the peloton started, it was still treacherous conditions.
This had been the first rain in a while, and this, with oil on the roads, made for slippery and dangerous conditions, especially on the descents, with their tight corners. There were crashes throughout the race, so no one was taking any more risks than they had to, and it came down to a bunch sprint, won by Marianne Vos, ahead of Adrie Visser (Boels-Dolmans) and Rossella Ratto (Hitec).
This was Ratto’s best result in a UCI race, she's definitely a young rider to watch. She’s only 19, but she came second in the 2010 Junior Road Championships, and won the 2011 European Junior Champs. Last year, she raced for a small Italian team, and came 6th in her first elite Road Championships, and she’s following Elisa Longo Borghini by signing with Hitec.
Stage 1 results
1. Marianne Vos (Ned) Rabobank-Liv/Giant
2. Adrie Visser (Ned) Boels Dolmans Cycling Team
3. Rossella Ratto (Ita) Hitec Products
Stage 2 (Aretxabaleta - Aretxabaleta, 103.5km)
Stage 2 started gently, but at the half-way point, the climbs started, and once again, the rain played a big part in making it a tough stage. Early on in the race, Lisa Brennauer (Specialized) and Marta Bastianelli (Faren-Let’s Go Finland) had ridden away in a two-woman break. Almost as soon as the climbs started, the big move happened – Vos, Longo Borghini, Johansson and Johansson’s team-mate, Tiffany Cromwell, attacked and got away, catching and passing the escape pair.
On the final climb of the day, Longo Borghini attacked, joined by Johansson, making it over the top first and racing together to drop Vos and Cromwell – while behind them, Evelyn Stevens and her team lead the chase, working hard to minimise the damage to her General Classification hopes.
Cromwell had dropped Vos in the final sections of the climbs, while Stevens and Fabiana Luperini of Faren caught the Dutch star. Cromwell was caught on the descent, and then she and Vos used their superior descending skills to escape again. Vos got away before they reached the finish. Fast as they were, they couldn’t reach Johansson and Longo Borghini – they had ridden together before Johansson outsprinted the Italian to take the stage win – and finishing 26 seconds ahead of Vos, the race lead.
Stage 2 results
1. Emma Johansson (Swe) Orica-AIS
2. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Hitec Products
3. Marianne Vos (Ned) Rabobank-Liv/Giant @ 26s
Stage 3 (Orduña - Orduña ITT,13.4km)
Stage 3 was the Individual Time Trial, a technical 13.4km course, with lots of corners, a tough ride in the wet conditions. Specialized-lululemon’s Dutch ITT superstar, Ellen van Dijk, put down a superb time of 19:33, matched by another Dutch rider, Anna van der Breggen (Sengers) and General Classification contender, Longo Borghini.
It was race leader Emma Johansson who had a stunning ride, saying afterwards that she was riding as if it was dry, to finish 38 seconds ahead, at 18:55. With Stevens finishing 5th on the stage, 52 seconds behind, and Vos 15th, 1:25 slower, this meant Johansson’s overall lead increased - +38 to Longo Borghini, + 1:51 to Vos, + 2:14 to Stevens and + 2:25 to Cromwell. ORICA-AIS had everything to fight for as they headed into the final stage.
Stage 3 results
1. Emma Johansson (Swe) Orica-AIS
2. Ellen van Dijk (Ned) Specialized-lululemon @ 38s
3. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Hitec Product
Stage 4 (Fruiz - Gatika, 88.7km)
Stage 4 was the biggest one – only 88.7km, but continual hard climbs and twisting descents, ending on an uphill finish, and yes, once again the heavy rain showed up.
It started with attacks, but the ORICA riders were highly vigilant on the front, working hard to keep the race under control as much as they could. With slippery roads and poor visibility, the first climb signalled the main action, and from then on, the race was all about the attacks – small groups forming and being caught, with more and more riders dropping out of contention with every climb – including Marianne Vos, who just couldn’t keep up on the hills.
At 45km to go, there were eleven riders left in front, including the big overall race contenders, Johansson, Longo Borghini and Stevens. On the second big climb, Stevens attacked hard – but Johansson and Longo Borghini caught her on the descent, and on the final big climb, it was those three, Luperini and Van der Breggen.
On the final climb, Stevens attacked again, to get over the summit first – but while Stevens is an exceptional climber, she’s less strong on the descents, and Johansson and Longo Borghini caught and passed her on the downhill. Stevens fought her way back, with Van der Breggen managing to join her – and the four riders came into the last five kilometres together.
After the tough day’s racing, Longo Borghini took everyone by surprise, starting to sprint with 500m to go. Although Stevens chased her, Longo Borghini won, with the American in second – but Johansson was firmly behind for third, her first Stage Race win for ORICA-AIS.
Stage 4 results
1. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Hitec Products
2. Evelyn Stevens (USA) Specialized-lululemon
3. Emma Johansson (Swe) Orica-AIS
The final podium was Johansson, Longo Borghini and Stevens, with Vos dropping to fifth overall, nearly three minutes down. There are still three weeks to go before the biggest stage race of the year, the Giro Rosa, so if Vos is having a patch of relatively bad form, she has time to recover – and can Johansson manage to keep her god condition until then?
1. Emma Johansson (Swe) Orica-AIS
2. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Hitec Products @ 38s
3. Evelyn Stevens (USA) Specialized-lululemon @ 2.14
4. Anna van der Breggen (Ned) Sengers Ladies @ 2.4
5. Marianne Vos (Ned) Rabobank-Liv/Giant @ 2.57
The next stage race is the Giro Trentino, three hilly stages over two days, and then the national championships weekend… Lots of action before the Giro!