Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) won the UCI Women Road World Cup last year. The British rider pulled on the series leader’s jersey following the first round of the World Cup, the Ronde van Drenthe, and wore it all the way through the final round in France. Who better than the most recent overall winner to share insight into the what, who, where, when and why of the UCI-owned race series?
What is the UCI Women Road World Cup?
First introduced in 1998 with six one-day events, the UCI Women Road World Cup continues to be the only international race series for women. The number of World Cup events in the series has varied over the last 18 years from six to 12 races and this year, the calendar features 10 races: nine road events and one team time trial spread across three continents.
Of the six races that were part of the original series in 1998 only one is part of the series this season – the World Cup in Philadelphia (then called the Liberty Classic, reintroduced to the calendar this year as the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic).
The races that make up the UCI Women Road World Cup all have a ranking of 1.2 or higher, thus riders can earn more points in World Cup races than regular races. These points go toward their world ranking, which in turn impacts team ranking. Points also play a role in national team selection and the number of riders a country is allowed at the World Championships. They can also influence contract negotiations.
Beyond world ranking, there is also a World Cup series ranking, and the series has an overall leader as well as a youth leader for riders under the age of 23. Last year there was also a sprint and a mountains classification but neither of been reintroduced this season. A team classification was introduced in 2006.
The UCI sets a minimum prize purse (€1,106 or $1603 AUD) and a maximum distance (140km).
“The World Cup races are some of the most important races we do throughout the season,” said Lizzie Armitstead. “Everyone focuses on them. We do around 60 race days each year, and you can’t go into every race with the same amount of enthusiasm or focus, but every team puts in their best team for a World Cup round. I would say in order of importance it’s probably Olympics, World Championships, and then World Cups.”
Why does the UCI Women Road World Cup matter?
The UCI Women Road World Cup includes the hardest and/or the most prestigious one-day races on the women’s calendar. Because of the prestige and the points available, the top teams and the top riders race, which assures the highest level of competition. It’s safe to say that the ten races that make up the series represent the highest level in women’s cycling.
While the series is currently limited to one day races only, these races offer something for every type of rider. There are cobbles and climbs (and cobbled climbs). There are circuit races and point to point races. There is a team time trial and two races finish atop a “wall” – the Mur de Huy at Flèche Wallonne and Manayunk at the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic.
It sounds as if the stage race specialists may soon have their day. The UCI Women’s Working Group has proposed the Women’s WorldTour replace the World Cup series in 2016. The proposed WorldTour will include both stage races and one-day races for a total of 30 to 35 races. Although the calendar has yet to be determined, the current World Cup races are all likely candidates for inclusion.
Who races the UCI Women Road World Cup?
In professional men’s cycling, the top level teams are called WorldTour teams, and the top level events are called WorldTour races. All WorldTour teams must race all the WorldTour races. That way, race organisers, sponsors, media and fans can expect good competition as the tops teams will regularly square off against each other during the season.
No such regulations exist within women’s cycling – although this may soon change. While most of the top teams do most of the World Cups, the races outside of Europe have lower attendance by the top ranked teams than the European races.
The top 20 teams are automatically invited to each of the World Cups. All other teams must be invited. While UCI teams make up the majority of the field at a World Cup race, club teams or national teams may also be invited.
“Every team sends their best riders to the World Cups,” said Armitstead. “You can always expect all the strongest teams with all the strongest riders. The level of competition is always very high.”
Diana Ziliute from Lithuania won the first UCI Women Road World Cup back in 1998. And Anna Millward, Oenone Wood and Marianne Vos are the only three riders to have won the series multiple times. Millward toped the standings in the second edition (1999) and repeated the feat two years later in 2001. Wood won back-to-back in 2004-2005. Vos has won the series a record-setting fives times in 2007, 2009-2010, 2012-2013.
“Consistency was the main thing that won me the World Cup series,” said Armitstead. “It wasn’t a goal at the start of the year. My goals last year were the Commonwealth Games and the World Championships. That was my focus. I just had a great start to the season. We didn’t even try to protect it early on. We worked for everyone. If a race suited a teammate more, I worked for her.
“In the end, it was a byproduct and a bonus. It was important to the team by the end of the season. Before last year, Boels-Dolmans hadn’t even won a World Cup [race] and then we won the World Cup series. It was pretty special for the whole team.”
Last year, each of the nine World Cups had a different winner, which shows the growing depth within the women’s pro peloton. And again, now midway through the series this season, there have been five different winners at each of the five World Cups.
The current series leader in Anna van der Breggen followed by Annemiek van Vleuten, who won the series in 2011. Belgian Jolien D’Hoore rounds out the podium in the mid-season standings.
Where are the UCI Women Road World Cup races held?
There are World Cups held in Holland, Italy, Belgium, China, the United States, Germany, Sweden and France this year with Belgium and Sweden hosting two rounds of the World Cup.
The Netherlands is the only country to have hosted a World Cup race every year with Ladies Tour Beneden-Mass (1998-1999), Lowland International Rotterdam Tour (2000-2006), Amstel Gold Race (2003) and Ronde van Drenthe (2007 – present). Belgium’s La Fleche Wallonne is the longest-running World Cup, held every year of the World Cup series except the first (1999 – present).
“I haven’t done the World Cup in Germany or the United States,” said Armitstead. “I’m quite looking forward to doing both of those this year. I really enjoy new experiences and new races. I’ve done a lot of races over and over and over again. To do new races is fun. I’m especially looking forward to doing Philadelphia.”
When are the UCI Women Road World Cup races?
This season, the World Cup series runs from March through August. Ronde van Drenthe in the Netherlands was the first World Cup this year. GP de Plouay-Bretagne in France will be the last.
The World Cups are spaced fairly evenly throughout the season with two races in March, two in April, one in May, one in June and four in August (including the team time trial).
“Plouay is always an important race to me,” said Armitstead. “It’s the last World Cup before the World Championships, and it’s on a hard course. Fitness at Plouay is always an indicator of who is going to be good at Worlds.”
2015 UCI Women Road Cup calendar:
March 14: Boels Rental Ronde van Drenthe, The Netherlands // won by Jolien d’Hoore
March 29: Trofeo Alfredo Binda – Comune di Cittiglio, Italy // won by Lizzie Armitstead
April 5: Ronde van Vlaanderen, Belgium // won by Elisa Longo Borghini
April 22: La Flèche Wallonne Feminine, Belgium // won by Anna van der Breggen
May 17: Tour of Chongming Island World Cup, China // won by Giorgia Bronzini
June 7: The Philadelphia International Cycling Classic, USA
August 2: Sparkassen Giro, Germany
August 21: Open de Suède Vårgårda – team time trial, Sweden
August 23: Open de Suède Vårgårda – road race, Sweden
August 29: GP de Plouay-Bretagne, France
Series overall leader after five rounds: Anna van der Breggen (Rabo Liv)
Youth leader after five rounds: Kasia Niewiadoma