By Ben Atkins
The Women's World Cup returns this week after the early summer stage races and offers a final chance for the favourites to hone their form for the Olympic Games in just over one weeks time. Last year's Open de Suède Vargarda winner Chantal Beltman will not return to defend her title, but the Columbia team - that has been almost unstoppable this summer - will be led by World Cup leader Judith Arndt.
Arndt, who as well as holding a commanding lead in the season-long competition, recently took the overall in the Thüringen Rundfahrt, showing that her season is peaking at just the right time. This race also marks a 2008 World Cup debut for Columbia's 19 year-old Swedish champion Emilia Fahlin.
The course will consist of 12 laps of an 11 km circuit based on the town of Vårgårda, to the northeast of Gothenburg, adding up to a total of 132km. The major obstacle each lap will be the short climb of the Hägrungabacken, which provided Beltman (when the team was still T-Mobile) with the springboard for her attack last year. The majority of the rest of the course is generally flat but rolling, giving a breakaway rider a chance to stay away but also providing an opportunity for a well-organised chase to pull it back. If a sprinter's team does manage to keep things together, the final stretch is almost perfectly straight apart from two corners inside the final kilometre.
Last year's second place Karin Thürig (Cervelo-Lifeforce) also comes off the back of a successful Thüringen Rundfahrt, having won the time trial and finishing fourth overall. She leads a strong team - which also won the team competition at Thüringen - which includes Chrstiane Soeder and Priska Doppmann. Those four are Beijing bound and so they should be on top form, and will be supported by riders like Sarah Düster and Australian Carla Ryan.
Completing last year's podium was Noemi Cantele (Bigla), and she also approaches the race after a successful Thüringen; the Italian won solo on Stage 3 and took the leader's jersey for a day. As usual Cantele will be joined by Nicole Brändli, but the Swiss will be testing the recovery of the thigh injury that forced her Thüringen withdrawal. The Bigla team will be competitive as usual but Swedish pair Veronica Andréasson and Monica Holler will be extra motivated.
Another local rider hoping to impress will be Emma Johansson at the head of her AA-Drink squad. The Swedish time trial champion is another due to represent her country in next month's games and will hope that her Beijing form will be enough to give her a result in her home World Cup race. The Dutch team has sent a strong roster of riders to support Johansson and also includes Kirsten Wild in case it finishes in a sprint.
A full Open de Suède Vargarda preview will be available shortly.