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We’re nearly upon the next two rounds of the UCI Women Road Cup. Yes, you read that right. Two rounds. The only international race series for women heads to Vårgårda, Sweden this weekend for the only double World Cup weekend of the season.
The World Cup action begins on Friday, August 24, with round eight of ten – a team time trial. Round nine, a road race, follows on Sunday, August 26. As both races are stand-alone events, like each World Cup, teams may enter different squads for each race.
While every World Cup is important in its own right, there are several distinct features of the Crescent Vårgåda World Cups that make these races particularly worthy of your attention.
1. The team time trial is the only team time trial amongst the 10 World Cup races.
And not only is it the only team time trial World Cup, it’s the only stand-alone team time trial on the entire UCI calendar. Coming exactly one month ahead of the team time trial at the Road World Championships, this event offers team’s an important opportunity to test their selected squad and strategies and see how they stack up against the competition they’ll face in Richmond, Virginia, next month.
Just how important is this event for those eyeing the podium at the World Championships? The top teams will have arrived in Sweden off a team time trial camp or conducted a team time trial camp this week between the Ladies Tour of Norway last weekend and the World Cups this weekend.
The Crescent Vårgårda team time trial covers 42.5 kilometres over an out-and-back course. Largely flat, the route includes a handful of short, gradual climbs and incorporates bits of the circuit that will be used in Sunday’s road race. As always, Velofocus is your best bet for course specifics.
2. It would be easy to call Velocio-SRAM the pre-race favourites for the team time trial based on past performances, but the team doesn’t have quite the upper-hand of past years.
The team time trial was introduced at the Road World Championships in 2012. For the last three years, one team has dominated that discipline – Specialized-lululmeon (now Velocio-SRAM). The German-based team is the only team to have won the team time trial – that’s three straight years of climbing to the top step. And every year before Velocio-SRAM won the team time trial world title, they won the Vårgårda team time trial World Cup.
Velocio-SRAM lost Ellen van Dijk to Boels-Dolmans following the 2013 season. Chantal Blaak and Evelyn Stevens moved to Boels-Dolmans at the end of last season. Van Dijk won the individual time trial at the World Championships in 2013. Stevens has finished second, third and fourth in the individual time trial over the last three years. Blaak, who was only with Specialized-lululemon last season, was part of the team’s third gold-medal-ride. The three undoubtedly bolster Boels-Dolmans’ ambitions in the team discipline. Another rider part of Velocio-SRAM’s past team time trial success is Carmen Small who left Velocio-SRAM at the end of 2014 and joined Bigla mid-way through the 2015 season.
Despite these key losses, Velocio-SRAM boasts reigning individual time trial world champion Lisa Brennauer and three current national time trial champions in Mieke Kroeger, Karol-Ann Canuel and Alena Amialiusik. And Boels-Dolmans will miss Van Dijk in Sweden. The Dutchwoman is sidelined with a broken collarbone sustained in one of the many crashes at La Course. Although Van Dijk will miss out on Vårgårda, she has stated her intention to return to racing in early September and will presumably slot back into her team’s time trial squad at the World Championships.
With all this chatter about Velocio-SRAM and Boels-Dolmans, you might think this is a two-team race. It’s not. Other squads to watch include Rabo-Liv, Orica-AIS, Wiggle Honda and Bigla. Of note – Orica-AIS will miss Emma Johansson, who has elected to sit out of the team time trial this year, and Bigla has lost Annemiek van Vleuten, who is still recovering from the injuries she sustained when she was hit by a car earlier this month.
The start list on the Crescent Vårgårda World Cup website includes the long list that each team was required to submit. This start list on Cycling Fever is likely the most accurate. Teams that have officially announced their squads include Boels-Dolmans, Bigla, Orica-AIS, Velocio-SRAM and Wiggle Honda.
3. You can watch the team time trial live – and the road race, too!
The live stream trend that started with La Course in late July continues, and we love it. In the last month, women’s cycling fans have been able to watch La Course, Tour of Utah, Ladies Tour of Norway and now the Swedish World Cups. And all four have been part of live broadcasts and/or highlight packages. We could get used to this.
Friday’s team trial begins at 5:30 p.m. (1:30 a.m. on August 22 in Australia, 11:30am on August 21 in New York). Teams head out on course in three-minute intervals in reverse order from the UCI Women Road World Cup standings after Sparkassen Giro. The team time trial is expected to end around 7:30 p.m.
Sunday’s road race starts at 9:15 a.m. (5:15 p.m. in Australia, 3:15 a.m. in New York). The early start time is to accommodate the live television broadcast in Sweden. Depending on the pace at which the road race is contested, the estimated finish time is between 12:10-12:40 p.m.
UPDATED: Turns out the team time trial wasn’t streamed live *but* the road race will be. You can watch it on the UCI YouTube’s channel – here.
4. We’ve talked a lot about the team time trial, but the road race offers plenty of excitement, too.
Previous editions of the Vårgårda road race have been run over on an 11.5-kilometre circuit. Twelve laps round the course that included one short, gradual climb and some technical corners – and the winner would be crowned.
The circuit course has proven unpredictable over the years with a variety of riders winning from several different scenarios. In the last three years, Chantal Blaak won a three-up sprint five seconds ahead of a 12-rider chase group, Marianne Vos beat out a group of five in an exciting final lap show-down and Iris Slappendel out-sprinted Hanka Kupfernagel in a two-up sprint more than a minute ahead of the first chase group. All three races were incredibly animated with countless attacks, counter-attacks and splits before the race-winning moves solidified.
This year, race organisers have introduced a 56.5-kilometre loop that precedes seven laps of the original 11.5-kilometre circuit. The large loop includes nearly three kilometres of gravel. While the key selection will likely still happen on the circuit, the modified course adds an element of surprise to an otherwise familiar race.
Here’s the start list for Sunday’s road race from the official race website. You’ll note that this list, like the team time trial list, includes more than the six riders per squad that are permitted to start. This list from Cycling Fever is likely the more accurate of the two – although even this list has a few teams wrong (as an example, Megan Guarnier not Romy Kasper will line-up for Boels-Dolmans.
5. The UCI Women Road World Cup overall classification offers a race within the race.
UPDATED FOLLOWING THE TEAM TIME TRIAL:
Last year Lizzie Armitstead (Beols-Dolmans) won the overall UCI Women Road World Cup series in Vårgårda. The year previous, Marianne Vos did the same. The point spread was large enough that no one could beat Armitstead (2014) or Vos (2013) with one World Cup (Plouay) still to race.
That won’t happen this year. Armitstead leads the World Cup standings by only 35 points over Anna van der Breggen (Rabo Liv). Unless Armitstead wins and Van der Breggen both finish outside the top 20, there’s still a chance that Van der Breggen could overtake Armitstead in the final World Cup. And the spread atop the overall classification is tight enough that Van der Breggen isn’t the only rider Armitstead must watch.
The race for the World Cup series overall within the race for the World Cup adds an extra layer of excitement.
Crescent Vårgårda World Cups on Ella
You can count on us to bring you all sorts of bring you interesting, engaging and informative coverage out of Vårgårda this weekend.
Here’s what we’ve got in store for you on Ella:
- Live Twitter updates at CyclingTipsLive. We’re on the ground in Sweden and will have updates from the finish on Friday and Bigla’s team car on Sunday
- A race report – of course! This is your place for a run through of all the basic action from the day, including full results and early images.
- A big beautiful photo gallery put together in conjunction with Sean Robinson of Velofocus.