The Tour de l'Aude, the oldest UCI women's race, will take place May 14-23 in south-central France. The 26th edition will cover 875.3km for its 10-day duration in the department of Aude, situated between the Mediterranean Sea and the Pyrenees, terrain well-suited for a variety of stages. The French stage race regularly attracts the top talent of the international women's peloton and the 2010 edition is no exception as last year's top three finishers and all the classification winners are once again poised to compete.
Returning to defend her 2009 Tour de l'Aude championship is Claudia Häusler (Cervélo TestTeam). The 24-year-old German is motivated to repeat her dominating performance of last year and once again is backed by a strong squad. "This race is my first goal for this year," said Häusler, who started the season late due to her studies. "The victory last year was definitely a highlight in my career as a cyclist."
"The Tour de l'Aude is always a challenging stage race," said Egon van Kessel, Cervélo TestTeam directeur sportif. "The team's performance will play an important role in the overall victory. With Claudia Häusler, Emma Pooley, Sharon Laws and Carla Ryan we have four excellent climbers for this kind of tour."
The 2009 second and third place finishers, Trixi Worrack (Noris Cycling) and Marianne Vos (Nederland Bloeit), also return to France looking for strong performances. Worrack won the queen stage last year en route to finishing 2:06 behind Häusler while Vos won three stages as well as the points classification and young rider classification. Vos, a multi-world champion for road, track and cyclo-cross disciplines, is on form this season and currently leads both the UCI ranking and the World Cup.
The HTC-Columbia Women should also play a decisive role, as the team includes sprinter Ina Teutenberg, 2009 prologue winner Linda Villumsen and American Evelyn Stevens, taking in the Tour de l'Aude for the first time as part of her debut season with the powerhouse team.
"This is my first full year as a pro, so I've never done this race before, and I've never done one that's as long as this - ten days - before, either," said Stevens. "However, I feel like I'm on the up. I've been training pretty hard, and everything's going well. I see riding the Tour de L'Aude as a great opportunity."
Stevens' motivation is high after winning two races in Spain last weekend. Almost immediately afterwards, she headed for southern France to train in the region where the Tour de L'Aude will take place. "I've looked at the route and as always, there's a lot of climbing in this race, so it'll be tough."
Teutenberg's sprinting legs are as fast as ever as the German took top honours at the Tour of Chongming Island stage race, May 5-7, in China last week in addition to winning the Tour of Chongming Island World Cup event which followed two days later. The German sprinter won three stages at the 2009 Tour de l'Aude.
Other riders to watch among the 18 teams competing during the 10-day stage race include Emma Johannson (Redsun Cycling Team), Loes Gunnewijk (Nederland Bloeit), winner of the Unive Ronde van Drenthe World Cup event in April, Vicki Whitelaw (Lotto Ladies Team), 2009 Tour de l'Aude sprint classification winner, reigning world champion Tatiana Guderzo (Team Valdarno), Australian road champion Ruth Corset (TIBCO), Mara Abbot (USA National Team) and Annemiek Van Vleuten (Nederland Bloeit).
The Tour de l'Aude opens on Friday, May 14 with a flat-as-a-pancake 3.9km prologue time trial and includes one more race against the clock, stage two's 35.4km team time trial in Clermont l'Hérault. While a strong team will be necessary to limit time losses, the Tour de l'Aude will likely be won in the mountains, with 18 categorised climbs on tap throughout the event. The most taxing days include the 97km stage four, which takes in three Hors Categorie ascents, including the highest point of the race, the 1866m Col de la Llose as well as the 105km stage seven in which the peloton must tackle two Category 2 climbs, one Category 1 and one Hors Categorie ascent.
Despite having some climbing, the sprinters will likely have their day on stages one, three and nine.