Preview: Big names set for showdown on new GP de Plouay route

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After what seems like years since the most recent Women’s WorldTour race, Strade Bianche on August 1, it is finally time for the next event on the calendar: the GP de Plouay. The women’s professional peloton will take on the French one-day on Tuesday, August 25.

In traditional seasons without reshuffled calendars, the rolling circuits of the GP de Plouay are typically used as a leg test ahead of the World Championships, and over the past few years the race has seen winners like Marianne Vos, Lizzie Deignan, and most recently Anna van der Breggen in 2019.

As Brodie Chapman (FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope) explained to CyclingTips this week, the GP de Plouay “can come at a hard time of the year for some riders. It’s a really exciting finish for sprinters, but as we can see the climbs can really split it as well. It’s super technical, super fast, so you need to be in position.”

The first WorldTour race since August 1 and only the third of the year, this year’s race could feature even more uncertainty than usual.

“Everyone has had their coronavirus stuff. Everyone has had their own struggles. I think it does reflect in the peloton but I think most people understand that,” Chapman said. “If you’ve managed to get a perfect training block in then it’s showing.”

A new parcours

Five circuits make up the brand new course in Plouay this year, with one large circuit and four “circuit de final.” Although the first two kilometers of the race are neutral, they include a nasty lefthand corner and some wiggling through tiny roads before taking on the first climb of the day almost immediately. There is nowhere to hide in the first 40 kilometers of the race, as it follows small forest roads that twist and turn and are never flat.

Sixty kilometers into the race the peloton crosses the finish line for the first time before moving into four finishing circuits, each 13.65km in length. This final circuit will be where all the fun happens, with three climbs. The first features a section with a 19% gradient and the other two max out at 9%, and while none of the climbs are long, with the technical nature of the circuit they will definitely make the race.

The GP de Plouay peloton will take on the finishing circuit four times.

The revamped course could make for some incredibly exciting racing. According to newly crowned French National Champion Audrey Cordon-Ragot (who will skip Plouay to focus on the European Championship), there is no telling how the race will end up.

“Now they have 40km before the final loops, and I think it will really change the way the girls will race because it’s always been the same race for years and years, waiting for the same climbs and everything,” Cordon-Ragot told CyclingTips. “Now I think the race will be more hectic and more aggressive, plus there is a really hard climb before the last loop which is really hard actually. I think it can really dynamite the race there.”

The riders to watch

With only one WorldTour race to provide insight into which riders are going well at the moment – and one rider completely dominating the scene – making a list of riders to watch may seem pointless, but let’s do it anyway.

Annemiek van Vleuten: It’s impossible to leave the reigning world road champion off of this list. She has won every race she started this year except for the Dutch national championships this past weekend. She is seemingly unstoppable right now in the WorldTour peloton.

Annemiek van Vleuten rode to runner-up honors at Dutch nationals this past weekend. Photo: Anton Vos/Cor Vos © 2020

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig: After finishing 11th in both the Basque races in late July and seventh at Strade Bianche, Uttrup Ludwig won the Giro dell’Emilia on August 18, proving that her move to FDJ was a good decision, and that she is ready to show off what she’s capable of. She likes aggressive racing, and a chaotic course could favor her style.

Kasia Niewiadoma: Her 2020 season may have started with disappointment, after suffering in the heat at Strade, but don’t be surprised if you see Niewiadoma come good in Plouay. With the nature of the course, technical and wild, she will revel in the chaos.

Leah Kirchmann: Like many of the riders in the peloton, Kirchmann may have struggled at Strade Bianche, but as one member of the pro peloton told CyclingTips, “That race shouldn’t be a judgment of anyone’s form.” If the GP de Plouay comes down to a sprint, Kirchman is definitely one to watch. She climbs well, and will be able to hang on over the explosive parts of the course. If the race is contested in a bunch kick or even from a reduced peloton, she will be there.

Anna van der Breggen: The defending champion just took an impressive victory in her national championship road race. She had previously never won the Dutch road title, somewhat surprisingly for the Olympic and former World champ. In the final 30 kilometer on Saturday in the Netherlands, she was able to hold off a chasing Annemiek van Vleuten, who rode away from the rest of the field like they were standing still. That’s a good sign for van der Breggen ahead of Plouay.

More names would make this list were it not for the European Championships taking place in the same week. Some riders are forgoing GP de Plouay for a chance at the European titles. That being said, this list of riders to watch could be very long, given that with this new course there is no telling how the race will end. Mavi Garcia, who just won the Spanish ITT and road race national championship after her incredible ride at Strade Bianche, could be an interesting rider to watch. Brodie Chapman could be a strong alternative option for Groupama-FDJ alongside Uttrup Ludwig.

The race could also come down to a bunch sprint, something we haven’t seen in quite awhile in a women’s WorldTour race, making it hard to call a favorite, particularly with Marianne Vos notably not on the start list. That said, Mitchelton-Scott will have more than one rider in with a shot in a bunch sprint. Outside of van Vleuten, the team has stacked its roster team with sprinty types like Gracie Elvin, Sarah Roy, and Georgia Williams. This will also be the first time that Lorena Wiebes has started a WorldTour race in her new Sunweb kit. She was among the finishers at Dutch nationals, where only 22 of 56 finished.

Lorena Wiebes made her first ever start in Sunweb kit at Dutch nationals. Photo: Davy Rietbergen/Cor Vos © 2020

The bottom line is that there are many riders to watch. This event is truly unpredictable, and will potentially be the most exciting race so far in 2020. Audrey Cordon-Ragot was quick to say the race will be exciting to watch. “It’s going to be a short race, and the girls will know that they can’t really attack in the final they have to go before,” she told CyclingTips. “They have to try something before. It could be a good breakaway going to the end. It could be a surprising winner.”

The race will be broadcast live on Eurosport and the GCN app, for those with access. Let the chaos ensue.

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