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RESULT: The 120.7km race started conservatively with the strong Dutch team controlling the front. Attempts to break free of a pack of over 70 women followed. Attacking continued until a successful breakaway of three riders, representing Belarus, Poland and the Netherlands, formed. In a three-way sprint to the line, it was Belarusian rider Alena Amialiusik (trade team: Velocio-SRAM) who edged out Polish rider Kasia Niewiadoma (Rabo Liv) and Dutchwoman Anna van der Breggen (Rabo Liv) for the win.
The inaugural European Games are underway in Baku, Azerbaijan, and cycling continues this afternoon with the women’s road race.
What’s at stake:
In addition to a gold, silver or bronze medal, ranking points are available and important for those countries that have yet to secure qualification for the Rio Olympics. The best ranked cyclists as of May 2016 will be eligible for a place at the Olympic Games.
Many of the European countries that have already secured their presence in Rio decided to not invest in the European Games, thus you will not see any riders from countries such as Great Britain, Germany and Sweden lining up at the start. Additionally, many of cycling’s top riders are in Great Britain for the Aviva Women’s Tour.
Teams from Holland, Italy and Belgium however do seem to be taking these races quite seriously, and are bringing talented squads to the Games.
“As a country, the Netherlands is taking these games very seriously and we have sent our best riders,” commented Ellen van Dijk, who earlier this week handily won the gold medal in the individual time trial. Her teammate, Annemiek van Vleuten, took the bronze.
“Everyone wanted to ride here. It is a wonderful event and also fits nicely in the build up to Rio,” said van Dijk, adding that while the Netherlands has already qualified for the Rio Olympics, the races at the European Games will help the internal selection of which riders will get to go to Rio.
Along with van Dijk and van Vleuten, the Dutch squad includes Chantal Blaak, Lucinda Brand, Anna van der Breggen and Amy Pieters. Notably missing is Olympic gold medalist and 12-time world champion Marianne Vos. Vos is currently sidelined with an injury and Pieters took her place.
The Italians, too, are taking the European Games seriously bringing quality riders such as Elena Cecchini, Tatiana Guderzo, Rosella Ratto and Valentina Scandolara.
“The Dutch are the ones to beat, particularly Anna van der Breggen,” stated Italian Tatiana Guderzo. “Then there are other opponents, such as the Polish girl Katarzyna Niewiadoma.”
With at least five riders each, the road race should be a good battle between the biggest teams: the Dutch, Italians, Belgians and Russians.
“I think a lot of people are looking at us, because on paper we are one of the strongest teams. That doesn’t always make it easier to actually win the race, but we are of course going for it!” said van Dijk.
Other strong individuals to watch are: Ukranian Hanna Solovey, who despite her recent controversial firing from the Astana team, took the silver medal in the time trial earlier this week; Polish rider Kasia Niewiadoma (Rabo Liv), who just won Bira last week, and Belarusian rider Alena Amialiusik (Velocio-SRAM).
About the race:
The road race, for both the women and men, is held around the city centre circuit of Baku, with the start and finish area taking place in Freedom Square.
The circuit race is the same course as used for the last stage of the Tour d’Azerbaidjan, and the women will complete a total of 120.7km.
“I expect it will be a tough race,” said Van Dijk. “It is very hot here and the course is selective. Is a nice little climb, which will surely be a critical point of the race and the difference could also be made on the cobblestones.”
Guderzo agreed: “It is not easy to interpret. There are two snags – one, the climb, that you make nine times and the other, the cobblestones, five times. They will decide the leading group and who will win.”
Where to watch:
You can watch the women’s road race on the Baku Games Youtube channel, where they are stream all their competitions LIVE.
The road race will be held June 20th at noon local time (AZST) / 5 p.m. AEST.