The Women's WorldTour continues in Sweden for the 18th round at Postnord Vårgårda West Sweden Road Race on August 13. After Boels Dolmans won the team time trial two days earlier, the focus shifts to the one-day race where the team field several possible champions - series overall leader Anna van der Breggen, world champion Chantal Blaak and Amy Pieters.
It will be one of the last one-day road races (except for GP de Plouay on August 25 in France) that the world-class field will face before the UCI Road World Championships held in Innsbruck at the end of September.
The road race route is the same as last year's, however, extended by final short circuits in Vårgårda. The riders first race four 11km
laps followed by a longer loop of about 55km, which is routed over four shorter gravel road portions, before ending with four laps of the 11km circuit, for a total of 141km.
"There are worse places to ride your bike," Christine Majerus (Boels Dolmans) said in a team press release. "It's a beautiful environment no doubt about that. The course has changed a bit in the last years as they added a bigger first lap and gravel sections which are always fun especially with rain."
Majerus, the current Luxembourg champion, was part of the team that won their third consecutive title in the time trial on Saturday, and she said she hopes they can pull off a successful race on Monday, too.
"Winning the team time trial with the team are good memories, but we never were really lucky in the road race, so it's kind of a mixed feeling every year," she said.
"In general, we have a few cards in stock of course," Majerus said. "We got riders for early breakaways, riders for climbing breakaways and some fast legs for a final sprint, so I guess we are okay with every scenario possible."
Boels Dolmans will field the likes of Van der Breggen, Blaak, who won the race in 2014, Pieters, Megan Guarnier and Amalie Dideriksen, but they will face a tough challenge from defending champions team Cervelo Bigla.
In the 2017 edition of the Crescent Vargarda road race, Lotta Lepistö beat runner-up Marianne Vos and third-placed Leah Kirchmann in a reduced bunch sprint.
Cervelo Bigla placed third, behind Boels Dolmans and Sunweb, in the team time trial showing their good form. Lepistö will line up at the road race as one of the favourites for a repeat victory, and team manager Tomas Campana said she would have full support from teammates Ann-Sophie Duyck, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, Clara Koppenburg and Emma Norsgaard Jørgensen.
"We want to help Lotta defend last year's victory in the road race," he said.
Vos will no doubt want to upgrade her third place to a victory. She's already a proven winner on this course because she has taken the top step of the podium in 2009 and 2013. She lines out with Riejanne Markus, Anouska Koster, Dani Rowe, Jeanne Korevaar And Pauliena Rooijakkers.
"All our riders are capable of handling this race. Each one has the freedom to jump with a breakaway and create their own opportunities. In case of a sprint, we will ride for Marianne," said the Waowdeals director Jeroen Blijlevens.
Mitchelton-Scott will also field a former winner in Jolien D'hoore (2015), who has proven to be on top form after she won two stages of the Giro Rosa in July. She suffered from heatstroke at the European Championships while racing on the track, but has recovered.
"For the road race we have seen over the past years that it can turn out in many scenarios," said Mitchelton-Scott's director Martin Vestby.
"There have been smaller breakaways winning and also big bunch sprints. We have a strong team at the start with different skills that can handle any scenario. We will grab the opportunities that come."
Other riders and teams to watch for success are Wiggle High5 with two former winners Emilia Fahlin (2016) and Kirsten Wild (2010). "I’m, as always, super excited for the Swedish round of the WWT!” Fahlin said. “It’s definitely one of my absolute favourite weekends in all the year, not just because it’s extremely cool to race on home soil with lots of support, also the course is one of my favourites too!”
Sunweb will field a powerful squad with Lucinda Brand, Coryn Rivera and Floortje Mackaij. Trek-Drops will bring American talent Taylor Wiles, who was second overall at the Amgen Women's Race in May.
The race provides another opportunity to move up the Women's WorldTour ranking. Van der Breggen is currently leading the series with 1160 points. Mitchelton-Scott's Annemiek Van Vleuten and Amanda Spratt, who are not competing in Vargarda, sit in second and third place with 1077 and 1008 points, respectively.