The 2018 Grand Prix de Plouay-Lorient Agglomeration Trophee marks the final one-day race on the Women's WorldTour and the 21st round of the series held on August 25 in the Brittany region of France. Defending champion, Lizzie Deignan will not be on the start line as she is expecting her first baby. In her absence, the peloton is full of potential winners but the woman-to-beat at the moment is Marianne Vos (Waowdeals).
Vos is on a winning streak like nothing we've seen since her since a hamstring injury and overload forced her to take time off at the end of 2014 and into 2015.
She has had a steady season of strong results that started with a pair of third places at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda and the Brabantse Pijl. She then secured second overall at the OVO Energy Women's Tour and won a stage at the Giro Rosa. She went on to second places at the European Championships in the road race and the Prudential RideLondon Classique, and she won the overall title at the BeNe Ladies Tour.
More recently, Vos has shown glimpses of her former dominance over the women's peloton by storming to victories on at the PostNord Vargarda West Sweden Road Race, and all three stages plus the overall title and points classification at the Ladies Tour of Norway, both races that are part of the Women's WorldTour.
Her string of victories have allowed her to steadily, and almost stealthily, climb the rankings of the Women's WorldTour of which she now leads with 1244 points, bumping her also-dominant compatriots Anna van der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten into second and third places, respectively.
"It was a surprise for me," Vos told Cyclingnews in Norway. "I had not looked at the standings before the Scandinavian races. And it is the first time I am leading this classification, too."
Vos is not only the favourite heading into the Plouay classic, but she is also a two-time winner (2012 and 2013), and she knows the course's intricacies like none other.
The women will race four 27km circuits followed by a 14km loop for a total of 125km. The race starts on a wide road and then turns into a bottleneck at the bottom of the Côte du Lézot, a one-kilometre climb that averages roughly 6 per cent. The large loop also includes a six-kilometre climb over the Chapelle Sainte-Anne des Bois and the steeper Côte de Ty Marrec at 10 per cent.
The final short circuit only includes the Lézot and Ty Marrec. The route's short and punchy climbs and its fast run-in to the finish line means that the race almost always comes down to a reduced bunch sprint or a breakaway, either way, it will be a race of attrition, and Vos has proven that she is capable winning from either scenario.
“The GP de Plouay is a nice, challenging one-day-race in which the strong riders will surface. The riders await many altitude metres. Especially Pauliena Rooijakkers, Marianne Vos and Dani Rowe should be able to manage this course. Hopefully they will be in a position to compete for the prizes," a statement read on the team's website.
Who to watch
The only other former winner on the start line will be 2016 winner Eugenia Bujak (BTC City Ljubljana). She was awarded the win after a photo-finish sprint from a reduced group of 13 riders that made it to the finish line.
Former winners Lucinda Brand (Sunweb) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) will not be on the start line, but their respective teams will have Classics-style squads.
Sunweb lines out with potential winners in Leah Kirchmann and Coryn Rivera, both capable of sprinting from a large or reduced group. The team also include climber Ruth Winder, who briefly led the Giro Rosa in July, along with Juliette Labous, Liane Pippert and Julia Soek.
Mitchelton-Scott brings a potential winner in Sarah Roy, who placed third last year. They also have Amanda Spratt, who won the Santos Women's Tour and Emakumeen Bira and was third overall at the Giro Rosa.
"I've been eyeing GP Plouay all season so I'm really keen to head back there this week and we have a small but fierce team. Alex Manly and Jess Allen are riding really strong and will be able to set the team up well for a good day," Roy said.
"A great option for us is with Amanda Spratt as she is having the greatest season and I'm sure the other teams wish she wasn't on the start line. I do like this race. It's been a bit of a benchmark race for me throughout my career because in the beginning it was too hard for me and now I'm a genuine contender.
"The roads can be challenging especially with the steep, narrow pincher a few km before the finish, the uphill drag that follows directly is nasty, and the remaining twisting roads always makes it hard but fun."
Canyon-SRAM will line-up with Elena Cecchini as one of their top contenders. The Italian placed second in the 2016 edition and will want to improve on that as one of the team's best classics riders. They also have options with climber Kasia Niewiadoma and sprinter/all-rounder Hannah Barnes, who is returning from injury. Three-time podium finisher Pauline Ferrand-Prévot will not be racing as she is instead putting the final touches on her preparation for the MTB World Championships in two weeks.
“I’m excited to be back racing. I am really looking forward to meeting up with the team again and getting stuck in," Barnes said. "GP Plouay is always an exciting race with a nice course so I'm happy to be returning there. It’s my first race back after injury so it’s always a bit unknown but I have been feeling good in training and my physio has been going well so I don’t see why I can’t play a big part in our team performance.”
Boels Dolmans will line up with world champion Chantal Blaak wearing dossard number one, in Deignan's absence. The team will also include her powerful Dutch compatriots Van der Breggen and Amy Pieters, all capable of winning a classics-style race.
Wiggle High5's Audrey Cordon-Ragot will target this race as one of only two Women's WorldTour event on French spoil, after La Course in July. Her team will include Italy's Elisa Longo Borghini, who was third in the 2011 edition.
Other riders to watch include Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and Lotta Lepistö (Cervelo Bigla), Janneke Ensing (Ale Cipollini), Shara Gillow (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope), Tatiana Guderzo (BePink), Alison Jackson (Tibco-SVB), Elisa Balsamo (Valcar PBM), Aude Biannic (Movistar) and Sheyla Gutierrez (Cylance).