Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (Rabo Liv) returned to racing in Laveno-Mombello for the second round of the Women's World Cup. It's the double world champion's first race since winning the rainbow jersey at the Cyclocross World Championships in late January.

Who will take home the rainbow jersey?

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RICHMOND, USA (CT) – It’s the day before the 2015 Road World Championships women’s road race and excitement is buzzing. Journalists, fans and even the riders themselves are speculating who will take home the rainbow jersey. The cobbled climbs and the weather, as it threatens to rain, are the topics of conversation.

If the women’s elite time trial is an indication of what is to come on Saturday, we are in for a treat. With the top five finishers all within 20 seconds of one another, the time trial showed just how strong the women’s peloton is at the moment and it made for one of the most exciting team time trials I have seen. Set your alarms because you won’t want to miss the road race!

Related: Read the men’s race preview here.

THE ROUTE

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The 129.8-kilometre (80.6 mile) road race consists of eight laps around a challenging inner-city road circuit.

Starting in Downtown Richmond, the course takes riders West onto the historic Monument Avenue and back after a 180-degree turn to navigate through the city’s Uptown district and Virginia Commonwealth University. Continuing East alongside the canal, the course will then take a sharp, off-camber turn onto the narrow, twisty, cobbled Libby Hill climb.

The much talked-about climb is around 200 metres and likens the cobbles of Flanders. Although it’s very ride-able in the big ring, there will surely be some surges on the front of the peloton and it will seem steeper and steeper each lap.

Libby Hills is followed by a few quick and hard turns on pavement before it’s back on the cobbles, this time for a 100-metre stretch on 23rd Street. While shorter, this climb is steeper than Libby Hill and because the two uphill sections are so close together, the peloton will likely get spread out.

But some smoothly paved and wide roads follows, bringing the riders back toward Downtown where a 300-metre climb up Governor Street and a 680-metre false flat culminates the circuit.

“The course is hard. Harder than it looks,” stated German favourite, Lisa Brennauer. “But I think it suits us a team. The uphills are hard but not long enough to favour only the hill climbers. It’s very much a classic course.”

THE RAIN

wet la course

Rain. It’s been the topic of conversation these past 12 hours as blue skies and sunshine turned to grey clouds. Weather predictions don’t look good for Saturday, and we all remember how much of a crash-fest La Course was.

Short, punchy climbs, cobbles and rain? Classics fans and riders are rejoicing.

“I wouldn’t mind riding the rain,” said Brennauer. “I don’t see any problems for [the German team] if it rains.”

CONTENDERS

There are well over 40 nations represented with 137 riders slated to start. Of those 137, there are at least a dozen riders favourited to win.

The Americans are lining up with an incredibly strong squad including Megan Guarnier who’s had a tremendous year with Boels-Doelman, sprinter Shelley Olds who enjoyed some late season wins and Evelyn Stevens who’s always a contender.

The Dutch, too, are lining up with seven riders, all of whom could potentially win.  Anna van der Breggen will be heavily marked after the dominating year she’s had, winning  Omloop het Nieuwsblad, Flèche Wallonne, the Giro Rosa, and La Course just to name a few.

“I now have a bronze medal and a silver medal,” commented Anna van der Breggen, who won the bronze medal in the TTT earlier in the week as part of the Rabo Liv squad, and won silver in the ITT on Wednesday. “The rainbow jersey, of course, is the most beautiful jersey there is,” she said. “I hope to do well in the road race and together with the Dutch team, I think we are ready for it. It’s going to be an exciting race.”

Lucinda Brand is another Dutch rider to keep an eye on. She is a great technical rider who would be dangerous in a break.

Then there are the Germans with power rider Lisa Brennauer who’s got a big TT engine and not a bad kick either. We saw her sprint to victory at the Energiewacht Tour this year as well as the Aviva Women’s Tour. And with riders like Trixi Worrack, Charlotte Becker and Claudia Lichtenberg alongside her, the Germans are a strong force.

And then of course, we have got the clear team-leaders like defending champion Pauline Ferrand Prevot of France; UCI Women World Cup winner Lizzie Armitstead of Great Britain; Jolien d’Hoore, the sprinter who’s had a breakout season; Sweden’s Emma Johansson who would love tricky, wet conditions; Italy’s Elisa Longo Borghini who won the Tour of Flanders and two-time former world champion Giorgia Bronzini.

With so many favourites, the depth in the women’s peloton has never been so strong.

“The race it wide open,” commented German Trixi Worrack. “The climbs are tough but it has a little bit of everything… there are many rainbow riders in the peloton.”

Even multi-world champion Marianne Vos, still injured and following the championships from the couch at home, said it’s hard to call the race. In a great interview with Sarah Connolly, she stated: “It’s going to be interesting, because we have so many favourites, and so many good teams – who will take the responsibility in this race, nobody knows, who will attack, and who will ride defensively.  I’m looking forward to watching the race.  Of course I’m a little bit gutted to miss it, but the race will be good!”

“I will name some favourites – for me they are Anna van der Breggen, Elizabeth Armitstead, an American, and Pauline [Ferrand Prevot]!” Vos said.

We asked our friends in women’s cycling media to share their top three picks for Saturday’s podium – feel free to share your top three in the comments below.

Anne-Marije Rook – Ella co-editor – @amrook

“It’s too tough to call. The women’s field has been so strong all year and there are many rainbow jersey contenders. These are my top three picks but I really can’t decide on the order.”
AMR
1. Anna van den Breggen (NED)
2. Megan Guarnier (USA)
3. Lizzie Armitstead (GBR)
 
 

Jessi Braverman – Ella co-editor – @JESSIBRAVERMAN

Jessi
1. Lizzie Armitstead (GBR)
2. Emma Johannson (Sweden)
3. Megan Guarnier (USA)
 
 

Matt de Neef – CyclingTips editor – @CLIMBINGCYCLIST

matt de neef
1. Lizzie Armitstead (GBR)
2. Anna van der Breggen (NED)
3. Pauline Ferrand Prevot (FRA)
 
 

Balint Hamvas – cycling photographer – @CYCLEPHOTOS

Balint
1. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (RSA)
2. Lotta Lepisto (FIN)
3. Lizzie Armitstead (GBR)
 
 

Neal Rogers – GCN presenter + VeloNews editor – @nealrogers

unnamed-2
1. Lizzie Armitstead (GBR)
2. Elisa Longo Borghini (ITA)
3. Megan Guarnier (USA)
 
 

José Been – cycling commentator for Eurosport, UCI + ITV – @TOURDEJOSE

jose been
1. Lizzie Armitstead (GBR)
2. Katarzyna Niewiadoma (POL)
3. Lucinda Brand (NED)
 
 
 

HOW TO FOLLOW

The women’s road race runs from 1pm to 4:25pm local time (that’s a 7pm start time for Europe and a brutal 3:00am start for Australia). Your best resources for following all the action are linked below:

We’ll be on-site and tweeting live race updates from CyclingTipsLive. Be sure to follow Ella on Twitter and Instagram for a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the happenings in Richmond.

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