At the half-way point in the UCI Road World Cup, the women’s peloton move to China, for the only race in the series that can be classified as a sprinter’s race.
This is the second year that the Tour of Chongming Island have hosted a World Cup stage, the only World Cup race in the 2011 season to take place outside of Europe. The island in the Yangtze River is 80km long and 18km wide, and rises no more than 4 metres above sea-level – but there will be two climbs of 70m as peloton ride onto the dramatic Shanghai Yangtze Bridge, which connects the island to the most populous city in China.
The race will take an almost entirely straight route from the start in Chengqiao Town for 45km until they reach the bridge. They will ride out as far as Changxing Island, come down off the bridge and immediately up again to return on the other side back to Chongming Island, where they will loop back to the start.
Although the course is not challenging in itself, it is likely to be complicated by the weather, with winds, especially on the bridge, and rain being likely. This is a very wet time of year for the area, and both last year’s race and the first stage of the Stage Race saw heavy rains causing problems for the riders.
The favourite for the race win has to be last year’s winner, HTC-Highroad’s Ina-Yoko Teutenberg, who won the overall title in the stage race. Her biggest competition will be Garmin-Cervelo’s Lizzie Armitstead, who’s back on form after a series of medical issues in 2011, Rochelle Gilmore (Lotto Honda) and current Road World Champion, Giorgia Bronzini. Teutenberg’s main rival in the Chinese races last year, Kirsten Wild (AA Drink-Leontien.nl) won’t be racing, as she’s having a break after riding the track and spring classics seasons back-to-back – and neither will the current World Cup leader, Nederland Bloeit’s Marianne Vos.
Vos is also taking a break, as she too rode track, but in her case also raced part of the cyclocross season. 2011 has seen her winning the World Championships in Cross and Scratch – and although she won the World Cup series in 2007, ’09 and ’10, she has to have time off the road so that she can be in peak condition for the Road World Championships.
With Vos away from the race, her Nederland Bloeit team-mate Annemiek van Vleuten will be aiming to move up from second place in the series to first. Van Vleuten had been leading the series after she won the second round, the women’s Tour of Flanders, until Vos won Round Four, the Flèche Wallonne. At 158 points, 27 behind Vos, Van Vleuten would need to finish in fifth place or above to take the leader’s jersey. The Nederland Bloeit strategy is that they wouldn’t mind which rider wore the jersey – as long as it’s one of the riders from their team.
However, Emma Johansson (Hitec Products) is only thirteen points behind Van Vleuten at 145, and will be doing all she can to move up the standings and win her first Road World Cup title. The Swedish rider finished the 2009 and 2010 seasons in second place, and she is determined to take the title from Vos. Both Johansson and Van Vleuten are more Classics riders than sprinters, so they will be hoping for a breakaway rather than a bunch finish. With 75 points for the winner, 50 points for second place and 35 for third, they will be riding for high stakes.
Judith Arndt (HTC-Highroad), who sits in fifth place in the standings with 83 points, will also be looking to move up the standings. Garmin-Cervelo’s Emma Pooley is still out of racing with her collarbone injury, so will lose her fourth spot.
After Chongming Island, the World Cup will return in June for the GP Valladolid, then move to Sweden for the Open de Suède Vargarda Team Time Trial and Road Race at the end of July, before it finishes in France with the GP de Plouay on 28th August.