Here we go then. A trifling 96km for the women on Sunday, while the guys are beginning their three-week jaunt around France. Ho hum...
It promises to be a cracker though because, let's face it, most women's races are. Vos, Van Vleuten, Deignan, Longo-Borghini, Niewiadoma - all the big hitters bar Anna van der Breggen are in attendance.
Have we got Cycling Mole on the ropes here? Allons-y!
La course: Nice - Nice (96km)
Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv Team) Question is always whether Van Vleuten can solo away, but I have doubts that the 5% climb is tough enough to make a big enough difference. If it comes back together, I'd put money on Vos winning a group kick, though she'll have to show better legs than recent races.
Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) I heard Lizzie Deignan say on the Cycling Podcast Feminin that she thought the course profile suited her, so I was between her and Marianne Vos. Vos's form looks to have been a little indifferent since the resumption of racing, while Deignan's massive win in Plouay demonstrated that she has got the form. With it taking place on her local roads, I'm banking on her having her arms in the air on Saturday afternoon.
Cecilie Uttrup-Ludwig (FDJ) Two piffling climbs in this one, so no biggie. I’m torn here. The all-conquering Van Vlueten had an off day ay Plouay, while Lizzie Deignan and Lizzy Banks smashed it. Deignan crashed in the Euros, but seems unaffected. But I’ll take a punt on the force of nature that is Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, who took a fabulous win at Giro dell’Emilia recently. Pam! Put the hammer DOWN!
Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) It's an uncertain new world, in almost every aspect other than the surety that Annemiek van Vleuten will carry on winning anything she goes for. But despite that, I am going to make a pick based on my faithful tactic of choosing 'people I have met that were nice'. So, encouraged by her recent Plouay victory, I'm going to pick repeat Rouleur Classic guest Lizzie Deignan, on a course that should suit her.
Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott-Scott) Having missed the move in the Grand Prix de Plouay, who can write off Annemiek van Vleuten? With six wins from eight starts this season, she's already a firm favourite. Pair that with a new European Championship title and her rainbow bands and the race is hers to lose.
Cycling Mole says...
I’ll let you into a little secret as long as you promise not to say anything. Deal? I’m not such an expert when it comes to women’s cycling. There you go, I’ve said it. On the plus side, neither are the Rouleur team! The route is a weird one, under 100km in length and features the two climbs that the men also do later in the day. We have 6km at 5%, quickly followed by 6.7km at 3.1%. This isn’t a particularly tough looking race, but my limited knowledge of women’s cycling still tells me it will be a selective day.
In terms of the picks, something immediately jumps out at me. Both Nick and Ben have gone with Lizzie Deignan, but she did crash quite hard on Thursday in the European road race, pay attention boys. She does have good form just now, but it looked a heavy hit and it would put me off picking her. Andy is going with Vos, which would normally be a good shout, but her form hasn’t been very good of late and I don’t see her surviving the climbs. Ian has clearly been paying attention to recent racing and he’s gone with the fan’s favourite, Uttrup-Ludwig. Her win in Emilia was impressive, but she would prefer a mountaintop finish, not the flat one we have. Incredibly, only Miles has gone with Van Vleuten. Her return to racing has been nothing short of incredible, she will start the race as the big favourite.
What about me? Watching the European Championships, I did notice a few things. Despite winning, Van Vleuten didn’t look as fluid as in previous races. She did spend a fair amount of time on the front of the bunch, but she looked in difficulty at times. Okay, despite all of this she did win the race, but I’m wondering if her incredible run of form is starting to taper off. This route isn’t ideal for her, she would like the climbs to be harder, so I’ll pass on the obvious selection. Instead, I’m going to side with Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo). The Italian really impressed me on Thursday, her form is good, and I think she has what it takes to take home the title.