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Trofeo Alfredo Binda - Comune di Cittiglio - CDM

Italy, March 29, 2009

World Cup to open in rainy Italy

By Laura Weislo

Emma Pooley (Specialized) wins the Trofeo Binda and takes over the World Cup lead
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

The UCI Women's World Cup opens in Europe for the first time in its history, sadly due to the demise of the Geelong round this year. On the bright side, the later start will mean most of the contenders will have made themselves known during the early season races, making prognostications much easier than in previous years.

On the not-so-bright side, the weather forecast is calling for rain, which could throw a bit of a wrench into the dynamics of the race, especially with a decisive climb and descent falling within the final five kilometres of the race where slippery roads will test riders' skill and determination.

The Trofeo Alfredo Binda began in 1974, and through the years its stature has risen to the point where it gained World Cup status for the first time in 2008. The course around Cittiglio, which is north of Varese, includes two long circuits with a double-decker climb that rises two hundred meters to Brinzio, followed by a short descent and a shorter kick up to Orino before a long descent back to Cittiglio.

The same crest at Orino is approached from a different direction on the three short circuits that make up the final 60km, and the climb proved to be the launching pad for last year's champion, Emma Pooley, to escape and build an unassailable lead with 40km to go. It was an unusual outcome for a race which has historically been decided on the final lap, and came about because the favourites underestimated the Briton's abilities and waited too long to launch the chase in earnest.

Now that Pooley has made a name for herself, it is unlikely she will be given as much leash in this year's event. However, she may not need this sort of guile, as she's demonstrated already this season that last year's victory was no fluke. At the GP Costa Etrusca Livorno, Pooley broke away and held off Marianne Vos and teammate Kristin Armstrong to claim the victory.

Sarah Düster joined Pooley in victory earlier this month in Italy.
Photo ©: Davide Tricarico
(Click for larger image)

Now with the Cervélo TestTeam, sister squad of the men's ProTour team, Pooley has Olympic champion Kristin Armstrong on her side, along with GP Costa Etrusca-Montescudaio winner Sarah Düster and powerful time trialist Cristiane Soeder. The team has many options for the breakaways, but wiithout a pure sprinter, they should be on the attack early and often.

There will, however, be plenty of in-form women vying for the first World Cup jersey of the season, not the least of which will be Olympic and World Champion Nicole Cooke (Vision 1 Racing).

Cooke has played her cards close to her chest in the early season races, starting her year in the GP Costa Etrusca, where she finished two races in the top ten. She has won the Trofeo Alfredo Binda twice in the past (2005, 2007) before it attained World Cup status, so clearly the course favours her characteristics.

Nicole Cooke will bring the rainbow to Italy.
Photo ©: Davide Tricarico
(Click for larger image)

The Briton's team lacks the firepower of the squads such as Columbia-Highroad, Cervelo TestTeam, Equipe Nürnberger Versicherung and Bigla, but Cooke has shown in the past that she can be unshakable by the best of the world and still out-kick them to the line.

The German Equipe Nürnberger will field a balanced squad with sprinters Regina Schleicher and Trixi Worrack as well as all-around hardrider Suzanne De Goede, winner of this year's women's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and breakaway artist Eva Lutz, winner of a stage of the Ladies' Tour of Qatar.

But what about Columbia-Highroad? The team is split between its US obligations at the Redlands Classic and the World Cup, but still has plenty of firepower on tap in Italy. Last year's World Cup champion Judith Arndt leads the squad along with Trofeo Costa Etrusca winner Linda Villumsen. Together with Australian strong woman Kate Bates and the German champion Luise Keller, as well as power sprinter Chantal Beltman, the winningest women's team will be on the hunt for the World Cup lead.

Of course the Italian tifosi will be throwing their support behind favorite Noemi Cantele (Bigla), who took a brilliant solo victory in the GP Brissago Lago Maggiore earlier this month. Cantele will have strong support from her three Swiss teammates Nicole Brändli, Karin Thürig and Jennifer Hohl.

There is another Italian who could upset the aforementioned names - Fabiana "the wolf" Luperini. Her history with the Trofeo Alfredo Binda goes back to 1994 when she took her first victory in the race at the tender age of 20.

Perhaps the biggest threat lurking in the block of national teams on the start list will be former world champion Marianne Vos (Netherlands). With the final trip up the Orino climb coming in the final 5km, Vos will be a threat to any group which may emerge over the top, as she has proven time and again she can still pack a powerful punch after a tough run-in.

The Americans field a young team, with former Collegiate mountain bike champion Lea Davison as the number one. Team Tibco's strong woman Amber Rais and Jessica Phillips add experience to the team with Colavita's Kristin McGrath and Anna McLoon and collegiate stand-out Ally Stacher.

The season is still young, and while it's likely that a favourite will emerge victorious on Sunday, it is also the time of year where new, young talents can surprise. Any number of consonant-laden Eastern European names could bubble to the top of the results sheet through the sheer fortitude these riders can display.

The winner will earn respect, a swanky new jersey, and a prime front row starting spot at the second World Cup round next month in Belgium, the women's Ronde Van Vlaanderen.