The 2010 UCI Women's World Cup will come to a close at the GP de Plouay-Bretagne on Saturday, which will be a critical 114.6 kilometres for series leader Marianne Vos (Nederlands Bloeit).
Vos has led the World Cup since the first race of the season, the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, and placed second in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, but has failed to step onto the podium in any of the subsequent rounds. Of course she has won plenty of other races, most recently two stages of the Route de France Femminile to add to her 20 other season victories.
However, her World Cup lead has been slowly whittled down since her strong start to the series. A fourth at the GP Ciudad de Valladolid earned Vos a 60-point lead heading into the double round in Sweden last month, but her go-for-broke final lap attack and subsequent 11th place finish behind Open de Suède Vargarda winner Kirsten Wild (Cervelo) took all but 18 points from the buffer she previously enjoyed over Wild, now her nearest competitor.
However, Cervelo has chosen to focus its efforts on the team World Cup classification and will not start the race with Wild, whose talents do not necessarily match the difficult uphill finish. That leaves the challenge to Vos in the hands of third placed Emma Johansson (Red Sun), who finished a close third behind Vos in Plouay last year.
Vos, a former World Champion, has shown she can win the sprint to the line in Plouay, last year finishing second behind solo escapee Emma Pooley (Cervelo).
In contrast to previous years, Vos has another card to play as teammate Annemiek Van Vleuten sits in fourth place in the World Cup standings, 60 points in arrears. The pair have sacrificed for each other all season, and come Sunday they will have a tactical advantage over the Cervelo TestTeam.
Cervelo has German champion Charlotte Becker still in the hunt for the World Cup title, 62 points behind Vos. She is tied with Belgian Grace Verbeke (Lotto Ladiesteam), the winner of the women's Tour of Flanders, but neither will be given much leeway from Vos' team in this final round.
The tactics for the overall World Cup will put the race advantage into the court of the HTC-Columbia team, who have only won a single round of the World Cup, the Tour of Chongming Island won by Ina Teutenberg. With no riders in contention, and most of the riders behind Vos in the standings needing big separation between themselves and Vos at the line, look for HTC-Columbia to help Noemi Cantele, a two-time former winner in Plouay, to duplicate those results.
Cantele has just the kind of punchy climbing style that is necessary to win the GP de Plouay-Bretagne, and Vos might be more than happy to let her charge off for the maximum points if she doesn't feel she can handle Johansson, Becker or Verbeke on her own. HTC-Columbia also has Judith Arndt, who showed strong form in taking second overall in the recent Route de France Femminile.
Other opportunists who might feature in the mix are last year's winner Pooley, who is also well out of the mix in the World Cup and Monia Baccaille who will head Team Valdarno in the absence of World Champion Tatiana Guderzo.