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Ronde van Drenthe - CDM
Netherlands, April 12, 2008
By Ben Atkins
The Women’s World Cup stays in northern Europe, moving further north and east to Hoogeveen in the Netherlands for its next round. 2007 winner Adrie Visser returns to defend her nation’s World Cup race with the DSB Bank team, but will likely be working for the benefit of former World champion team-mate Marianne Vos. In truth, that’s what she was doing in last year’s race when her last gasp attack in the company of Elodie Touffet (then of Menikini-Gysko). Vos’ rivals failed to chase down the pair of escapees, and Visser easily beat Touffet.
As Drenthe is one of the flattest parts of the Netherlands, the race organisers have to come up with other ways to make the course challenging. The first thing they did was to make it 135.6km long, over twenty more than last weekend’s Ronde Van Vlaanderen. On top of the longer distance, there are four sectors of cobbles in the first half of the race, appealing to those who enjoyed themselves last week.
The major obstacle of the course though is provided by one of the larger man-made structures in the area. The VAM-berg exists courtesy of the fact that the Netherlands’ government has only recently had its strict environmental policies changed; you wouldn’t know to look at it, but it owes its existence to a massive landfill site.
The race will climb the VAM-berg three times; once early on after just 9.4km, and then twice in latter stages with 46.4km and then just 14.3km to go. The last of those ascents could prove decisive if a breakaway manages to get a sufficient gap so close to the finish. There are plenty of sprinters in the field though who will be keen to prevent this from happening and the flat run in gives them plenty of opportunity to get a well-organised chase together.
Last weekends Vlaanderen winner Judith Arndt starts with number 1 on her back and leads a High Road team with a number of cards to play. Arndt herself proves a hard woman to catch in a last ditch break and her team-mate Chantal Beltman proved last week that she likes the cobbles and steep hills. If it does come down to a sprint though, High Road has one of the fastest finishers in the business in Ina Teutenberg., who finished fourth here last year. Of course, Marianne Vos may have something to say here as the former World champion won the bunch sprint last year to take third.
Elodie Touffet returns with a new team: Gauss RDZ Ormu as half of a double-headed challenge with Julia Martisova. In Vlaanderen last week Touffet didn’t feature, but the Russian Martisova stuck with the lead group and finished seventh, ahead of some much more fancied riders.
Current World Cup leader Suzanne De Goede (Equipe Nürnberger Versicherung) has a good chance to extend her advantage over the rest in a race that suits her capabilities. She won the old Ronde van Drenthe stage race back in 2005 and so knows the area very well. In the charge for the line in last year’s race she finished a strong fifth behind then team-mate Teutenberg, but this year she should be the captain of her new team. If she does falter however, her team-mates include former World champion Regina Schleicher - more than capable in this kind of sprint - and Trixi Worrack who can climb with the best on a course like this.
Out for a bit of revenge should be Kristin Armstrong (Cervelo Lifeforce Pro Cycling Team) who, after doing everything right last weekend - including instigating the winning move - just failed to have the legs where it counted in the finishing straight. She finished in the bunch here last year, but the course suits her as well as last week’s did. In support of Armstrong will be one of the strongest line-ups in the race including the powerful trio of Sarah Düster, Christiane Soeder, Priska Doppmann, any one of whom is capable of a result here herself.
Former double World champion Suzanne Ljungskog leads a strong Menikini-Selle Italia team that includes the Australian duo of last year’s sixth placed Rochelle Gilmore and Commonwealth Games champion Natalie Bates. All three of these riders enjoy courses like these and should cause the other teams some problems. Italian duo Noemi Cantele and Nicole Brandli (Team Bigla) both finished strongly last weekend and their team-mate Kazakh Zoufila Zabirova will be looking to re-start her season after a throat infection in March prevented her from being competitive in the last few races.
Loes Markerink (Team Flexpoint) won here in Drenthe the last year of the old stage race format in 2006, and was a member of the section of the breakaway that was caught just before the finish last year. Her team-mate Mirjam Melchers-Van Poppel will also be keen to feature in a race that she won way back in 2003 and exorcise a pretty lacklustre performance last week.
Omloop Het Volk winner Kirsten Wild (AA-Drink Cycling Team) won the sprint to take third in Vlaanderen and will be keen as leader of one of the big Dutch teams will hope to go two better. Her Swedish team-mate Emma Johansson was disappointed not to get a better finish in the end last week - she was ninth - after being in the break all day, so she will look to go better in the final stages this time.
The Vrienden Van Het Platteland team featuers the Anglophone trio of Australians - Lorien Graham and Nikki Egyed, and American Tina Mayolo Pic. They will hope to do well, especially after Graham’s good finishing position in Vlaanderen last week. Other riders from the English speaking World include Olympic champion Sara Carrigan (Lotto-Belisol Ladiesteam) and Katheryn Curi Mattis of the USA National team. Curi Mattis has been listed as a starter in all of the World Cup races since she won in Geelong, it will be interesting to see if she has recovered from the injuries she sustained in the Tour of New Zealand enough to ride. Emma Pooley (Specialized Designs for Women) who won the Trofeo Alfredo Binda didn’t enjoy the course in Vlaanderen and probably won’t like the narrow winding Dutch roads any more. She might like the VAM-berg climb though, so you never know.
Finally, also listed as a starter is World Time Trial and Cyclocross champion Hanka Kupfernagel of Germany. By all accounts she was in Mallorca when they announced her inclusion in the Ronde Van Vlaanderen team. She preferred to stay south in the fine weather last weekend, but should start this time.