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Ronde van Drenthe - CDM

Netherlands, April 14, 2007

Can Cooke make it three?

Nicole Cooke (Raleigh-Lifeforce Creation)
Photo ©: AFP
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The women's UCI World Cup heads to the Netherlands for the third round, and all of the teams have to be wondering, can Nicole Cooke be stopped? The British rider is having a spectacular start to the season, having won the first two World Cups in Geelong and Flanders, along with the overall in the Geelong Women's Tour and two one day races in Italy, but the course for the Ronde van Drenthe offers a slightly different challenge for the 24 year-old World Cup leader.

The 139.8 kilometre Ronde van Drenthe is held in a flat part of the Netherlands, so it lacks the constant rolling terrain of Geelong or the multiple 'bergs' of Flanders, but thanks to modern sanitation, the course does have one main difficulty - the 'VAM-berg'. The hill is a man-made berg, the result of a landfill, and the route up this 750m long ascent is narrow and kicks up to over 20% grade. The women hit the VAM-berg three times, and for extra fun will have sprint bonuses at the top.

Climbing the Vam in 2006
Photo ©: Kristy Scrymgeour/CN
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To make the flat route even more challenging, the organisers have thrown in several intermediate sprints and a few cobbled sectors, and with typical narrow, windy Dutch roads, the fight to be near the front will be a constant battle. Any rider caught at the back will have difficulty moving up. It will take a strong team to keep the leaders near the front on this course, and Cooke's Raleigh Lifeforce Creation team will have their work cut out for them. Her powerful team-mate Swiss rider Karin Thürig, a former time trial World Champion, will be key, as will the experienced Kiwi Joanne Kiesanowski.

A strong T-Mobile squad will throw its weight behind Ina Teutenberg for the sprint, but manager Kristy Scrymgeour told Cyclingnews that they wouldn't necessarily rely on the race coming down to a sprint. "If we get in the right break, we'll go with it. Otherwise, Ina is very fast right now." The team has several aces, including the newly crowned points race World Champion in Kate Bates, former World Champion Judith Arndt, and the team's top finisher in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Suzanne de Goede.

Ina Teutenberg (T Mobile Femme)
Photo ©: Photosport International
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Teutenberg may not want to wait for a sprint. The German spent the better part of the Drentse-8 van Dwingeloo in a breakaway with Bilga's Zoulfia Zabirova, only to get pulled back by the Equipe Nürnberger squad. Should the race come down to a bunch sprint, Regina Schleicher showed that her sprint is at its peak in the Drentse-8, where she won ahead of Menkini-Gysko's Australian sprinter Rochelle Gilmore.

A dark horse in the race will be Team Flexpoint's Mirjam Melchers-van Poppel. Melchers made her re-entry into the peloton in the Drentse-8 after spending the winter recovering from massive injuries suffered in last year's Euregio Ladies' Tour. She finished a respectable 30th in that race, just ten seconds off the leaders, and will have gained confidence from that result.

Other women to watch are Australians Lorian Graham and Nikki Egyed, who finished 10th and 11th in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, and Italians Monia Baccaille (Saccarelli EMU Marsciano) and Marta Bastianelli (Safi-Pasta Zara Manhattan), both of whom have a fast finish.