Crescent Vargarda Women's WorldTour: Expect two wide-open races in Sweden

Rabo-Liv returns to defend TTT title; D'hoore absent in road race

What were one-day races on the World Cup in 2015, Sweden's Crescent Vargarda's team time trial and road race are now positioned as the 14th and 15th rounds of the new Women's WorldTour. Held on August 19 and 21, respectively, both events are excepted to be a wide-open affair as defending champions in the team time trial Rabo-Liv face strong team opposition and defending champion in the road race, Jolien D'hoore (Wiggle High5) will not be on the start line.

Rabo-Liv back to defend title at Crescent Vargarda Women's WorldTour team time trial

Last year, Rabo-Liv Women Cycling Team secured the victory of the Vargarda team time trail. The powerful team covered the 42.5km circuit-style course with the fastest time, dethroning three-time defending champions Velocio-SRAM in second, while Boels-Dolmans was third. But they went on to place third at the 2015 World Championships in Richmond, behind Velocio-SRAM and Boels-Dolmans.

On Friday, the Dutch team will return to defend their title along the same 42.5km route between Vargarda and Herrljunga, where crosswinds typically play a factor in the race. The teams will start three minutes apart, travel from Vargarda to Herrljunga before turning back along the same route. They will then tackle a smaller loop around Vargarda and end back at the start-finish line.

"Our team takes the TTT very seriously and many of my teammates have had a lot of success in the event so I am looking forward to learning lots," said Hannah Barnes, who is hoping her team Canyon-SRAM, which has some of the same riders as the former Velocio-SRAM team, will pull off an upset victory.

Wide-open Crescent Vargarda Women's WorldTour road race in defending champion D'hoore's absence

Last year, D'hoore won the Vargarda road race from three-up sprint ahead of her Wiggle Honda teammate Giorgia Bronzini and Lisa Brennauer, who then raced for the now disbanded Velocio-SRAM.

The Belgian rider will not be participating in this year's event as she has focused much of her season on securing a medal at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. She captured a bronze medal in the women's Omnium on Tuesday, but that left her little time to travel back to Sweden to contest the event.

Sunday's 141km road race has been revised from previous years to include four 11km laps at the beginning of the race. The field will then complete a longer lap of 55km, which boasts four short dirt road sectors, before finishing with five more 11km laps.

"Most races are hard to predict and looking at the profile of the course with a couple of climbs in I think there's a possibility to come down to a sprint," Barnes said.

"But anything can happen and if there is a good selection of riders that get a gap on the peloton then there is no reason why they wouldn't be able to stay away and race to the finish. I'm expecting an aggressive race."

Teams and riders to watch

As events on the Women's WorldTour, the Vargarda team time trial and road race will include the strongest teams and riders.

Rabo-Liv will be back to defend their time trial title. Runner-up team Velocio-SRAM ended at the end of last year, but the third-placed team Boels-Dolmans will be on the start line with a goal of winning the event.

Also on the start line will be Canyon-SRAM, Wiggle High5, Liv-Plantur, Cervelo-Bigla, Cylance, Hitec Products, Ale Cipollini, Lensworld-Zannata-Etixx, Parkhotel Valkenburg, BTC City Ljubljana, Bepink, Team BMS Birn and national teams from Finland and Norway.

With out the defending champion D'hoore, the road race will be wide open but look to her teammate and last year's runner-up Bronzini to be among those vying for the victory should the race come down to a sprint. She also has capable teammates in Chloe Hosking, who won La Route de France, and Elisa Longo Borghini, who won the bronze medal in the road race at the Olympic Games.

Also on the provisional start list is world champion Lizzie Armitstead, who was fifth at the road race in Rio following a controversial decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to overturn her provisional suspension for three errors in her whereabouts file. She will have support from former winner Chantal Blaak and fellow Olympians Evelyn Stevens and Ellen Van Dijk.

Guarnier is currently leading the Women's WorldTour with 886 points, Armitstead is in second with 545 points and Leah Kirchmann (Liv-Plantur) in third with 542 points.

Rabo-Liv's Anna van der Breggen will still be on a high from winning the gold medal in the road race and silver medal in the time trial in Rio. She will be supported by teammates Marianne Vos, Katarzyna Niewiadoma and Lucinda Brand, who won the Ladies Tour of Norway.

Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio lines up with a strong Cervelo-Bigla squad with support from Canadians Gabrielle Pilot-Fortin, Joelle Numainville, and Finland's break-out rider Lotta Lepisto.

Brennauer returns with Canyon-SRAM and strong teammates in Elena Checchini and Trixi Worrack, all competed in Rio. While Orica-AIS line up with Gracie Elvin, who was a part of a decisive breakaway on the Rio road race course, Amanda Spratt and Tayler Wiles.

Kirchmann, who also competed in the road race in Rio, will be on the start line for Liv-Plantur. And American team Cylance will showcase their new signing Carmen Small along with Valentina Scandolara.

After picking up the silver medal in the time trial in Rio for Russia, Olga Zubelinskaya will lead BePink alongside La Route de France winner Amber Neben.

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