The 2016 women’s road calendar – Part 2, the shape of the season
I’m in the middle of a mini-series, looking at the 2015 and 2016 women’s road calendars. Part 1 looked at how the 2015 racing compared to the published calendar, and how 2016 compares, and Part 3 is about the 2016 changes in context of the last 11 years – and previous years’ articles over on Podium Café. And for anyone who’s new to women’s racing, I also explained a little bit about the racing terminology and background. In this post, I’m going to look at the 2016 calendar in terms of how the season might work… with more colour-coded charts!
In the last post, I put in a table of 2016 races, including new ones, and races cancelled since 2015, and of course you can look at the calendar on the UCI website (make sure you switch it to 2016!) but here’s my home-made visual view:
I divide these into Europe (including Eastern Europe) and International because it helps get a feel for the mini-seasons, though of course the new World Tour makes that more complicated. What I’m interested is looking at how the races interact – as well as where the gaps are. I’ve left off the January/February races as they don’t overlap with anything, and I’ve added in the Olympic Games, as even though they aren’t UCI races, they’re important to understand the season, as the top (climbing) riders will be focusing on Rio. Explanations of the classifications of the races are over here.
Firstly, I want to talk about my theory of race overlap. Some people get frustrated when big races overlap with each other, and ask why are there more than one women’s race on at the same time, but I’m (generally) OK with this. One of the problems that comes with there only being one level of UCI teams for women is that juniors and other new riders are so often thrown straight into racing against riders like Marianne Vos, Emma Johansson and Lizzie Armitstead, and just finishing within the time cut-off can be a major achievement. In March and April, for example, you can count of the biggest teams in the peloton turning out to pretty much all the races, and the small teams just suffering, if they’re there at all. So when, for example, races like the Czech Tour de Femnin (& traditionally, the Tour de Bretagne) take place while the biggest teams and riders are battling in the Grand Tour, I like that it gives the chance for us to see how other riders and teams do.
Now, that’s a pretty extreme example, but I also (generally) like it at other points in the season. I like it when, for example, hilly races clash are on at the same time as sprint races, as different riders get the chance to shine, and the top teams can race both, so more of their riders get to ride, and when teams that can’t afford to go to North America for the two “mini-seasons” of UCI racing, there’s something back in Europe for the riders. And in the same way, clashing with the Olympic Games isn’t a death sentence for races. Sure, the top 4 climbing riders from the top 5 nations will be racing there, but the 5th-10th best riders from countries like the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, USA etc etc are better than a lot of nations’ best, so the competition will be fierce – and while the cycling media might be focusing on the Olympic races, other races can sell themselves with the “you saw the Olympics, now cheer at home!” message.
That’s not to say clashes are always good. I really felt for Thüringen Rundfahrt when La Course appeared on the calendar, taking away the best riders and teams. Thüringen is one of my favourite races, organised by a committee lead by former pro Vera Hohlfeld, and riders and team staff tend to love racing there…. but sponsors will want the teams at the Tour de France, in front of the live tv, even if it is only for a 90k kermesse. If a race like Thüringen can’t attract top teams and riders, that effects their sponsors, so they’ve had to move to a different spot. And there are a lot of stories like this – the organisers of the Emakumeen Bira, one of the few stage races left for climbers, were unhappy that the Philadelphia Classic became a World Cup last year, and reduced the teams coming to their race, and now are saying if they aren’t made part of the World Tour, they’ll cancel the race.
All that’s a long way of saying there are clashes that are fine, and clashes that could be problems!
March and April
These are pretty straightforward months, and I like that the Ronde van IJsseldelta has moved to the spring, because these weekends of 2 races are great. The first USA block of UCI racing is a lot of fun too, and there are non-UCI races that could benefit from big teams coming over to the USA for the Joe Martin Stage Race and the Silver City Tour of the Gila. These two races getting USA accreditation this year was such a great step up for the sport. And the Festival Elsy Jacobs happening at the same time as Gracia-Orlová is one of those “good” clashes – those spring races are dominated by the top teams, so giving smaller teams the chance to win too, while the big teams race in Luxembourg is a good thing.
It’s going to be interesting to see if the new World Tour changes which teams and riders go to China for the Tour of Chong Ming Island. In the Road World Cup, we’ve seen lots of big names miss the race out – Marianne Vos, for example, has never raced there, and has still won the series, and Lizzie Armitstead won the series this year and last year without racing it – and this is not a bad thing in my mind. I’m very much against the idea that teams should be mandated to race all the rounds of the World Tour, because again, I like it when there are chances for smaller teams to get to the biggest races. And if a team focuses on the Classics, for example, or the stage races with climbing in them, having to go to China to race the pancake-flat race benefits no one. I suspect ChongMing going World Tour will benefit the Tour of Zhoushan Island, but won’t harm the Dutch races at the same time.
The second block of North American racing is a bit easier this year too, with the Amgen Tour of California moving back to a later date – some teams will be able to go over for that, the Winston Salem weekend (with a non-UCI crit next to the UCI road race), the Gatineau races in Canada, and then the Philadelphia Classic. It is a shame Cali conflicts with the races in Venezuela, as the South and Central American teams will have to choose between them and Cali, but it does mean more chances for UCI points, and as I said in Part 1, I suspect the Vuelta Costa Rica will end up moving.
Finally, I’m counting that last weekend with clashes in Europe as a “good” clash – more chances!
June and July
The first two weekends in June are a bit messy, but apart from that, these months are pretty straight-forward months. I do wonder if the Giro Trentino will actually be a stage race or not, because this year it was a stage race on the first calendar, but only ended up as a day. It used to be a fantastic climbing race, famous for profiles that basically looked like this /, starting at the bottom of an Alp and finishing at the top, or like this /\, huge climbs and descents. But it’s been struggling for years, getting flatter and dropping from three days to two, to one, and going up against the Aviva Women’s Tour can’t help. In previous years, it was against the very flat RaboSter Zeeuwsche Eilanden, a race on the North Sea that I still miss, and it was good to get a split between the sprinters and climbers, but the Aviva Tour is a different beast. I am biased towards Aviva, I do their live-tweeting for them, but I think everyone would agree that the benefits that Tour bring to the sport, in terms of media coverage, professionalism and the enormous crowds, are a gain overall – especially if the rumours are true about more hills in 2016…
August will be dominated by the Olympic Games, and again, I can imagine that the big climbers and Classics stars will miss the Prudential Ride London World Tour crit at the end of July, in favour of getting out to Rio to acclimitise. But there are only maximum 4 riders per country for the Olympics, so there will be plenty of riders to race (how to they qualify? Check out this super-useful wikipedia article).
The Route de France/Ladies Tour of Norway clash is unfortunate, but Norway benefits from being so close to the Vårgårda World Tour races, and a lot of teams will race Norway and then have a Team Time Trial camp before the Swedish races. The French races are suffering in general – but if the Tour de l’Ardèche does reappear on the calendar, again, having the sprinters/Classics types in the Boels Rental Ladies Tour, and the climbers at l’Ardèche has worked really well in recent years.
The Madrid Challenge adds problems for races like Lotto Belgium Tour, but while it’s the end of the World Tour, it’s another “crit-like” race, so I can imagine a lot of teams will skip it. The real problem in September are moving the European Championships here.
Other Continental Championships are for elite riders only, but for some reason (probably because the strength and depth of European women’s cycling is so much greater in Europe), they’re only for u23 and juniors in Europe. They traditionally happen in June or July, and I don’t know why they’ve moved this year, but it’s a problem. The winners of the African, Pan-American and Asian Championships (but weirdly, not Oceania) get extra automatic places at the Olympics, and all of the winners get an extra spot at Worlds – but taking place in September means the European u23 Champ doesn’t, which I don’t think is fair. And it makes Worlds selection super-hard too – do European national teams add their top u23 rider to their Worlds long list, or not? So frustrating.
And then there’s what it means for riders – getting good results in the Euros can get riders spots as August/September stagiaires (basically, short-term contracts for developing riders) and help with team negotiations – which is a real loss.
But there’s no country for them, so maybe there’s a chance to move it? I’d put it in the week of 9-15th May, or maybe 14-20th July (sorry Thüringen!). While the men have a whole series of separate u23 races and development teams, women go straight from junior ranks to racing the elites, so opportunities for u23 women should be encouraged and developed, not pushed aside to the end of the season.
Speaking of junior races, one of the most exciting developments in the 2016 calendar is the increase in UCI junior women’s races. OK, there are only three, but this year there was only one, the Trofeo da Moreno, and that was the first time ever. Trofeo da Moreno is on the same day and the same roads as the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, which was a World Cup, and is now part of the World Tour – such a good opportunity for young riders to learn from and be inspired by the pros, and to get spotted by teams, even before it gave them UCI points. Having Gent-Wevelgem add a junior women’s race a week later makes this even better – a nice little block of racing, and G-W is one of those races with name recognition for people who only follow the men’s races.
It’s followed, about 10 days later, by the Energiewacht Tour, who have a junior women’s stage race on the same courses and days as the elite women, which, while not UCI-level, is always raced by the top juniors in Europe – maybe now G-W is there too, we’ll see young riders brought over from other continents for a block of racing? Getting to race alongside the elite women is fantastic, and experiencing ‘big’ races and getting to compete against international peers is so important for the juniors, and I hope more of the World Tour races follow this example.
The third UCI junior race is the Albstadt-Frauen-Etappenrennen in June. This is an interesting name to see back on the calendar – it was a UCI stage race in the 00s, but dropped to national level in 2010. The junior race has run alongside the elites for years, but getting UCI registration is really exciting. It’s good to see German women’s cycling getting stronger and stronger, after the men’s EPO scandals gave it a knock, so maybe we’ll see the elite stage race coming back to the UCI?
The final important junior women’s race to watch out for is the EPZ Omloop van Borsele at the end of April. This isn’t UCI ranked, but it’s another great race – part of a week with the women’s day race and Dutch national-level ITT, and junior men’s race as well. The junior women’s race is another one like Energiewacht – wonderful experience and a great place to spot the stars of the future.
Gaps in the elite calendar
Looking at the calendar is always interesting to look at clashes, but also spaces, for if new races want to develop. The Spring Classics season is definitely tough, but there’s room for more races in March and April for sure, especially, I dunno, adding sprint races in southern Europe – and that empty space between 9-21 May is just crying out for a new race. I will always miss the Tour de l’Aude, one of what used to be three women’s Grand Tours, in the French Pyrenees – there’s room for something like that to return in May – or maybe the Giro d’Italia could add some women’s racing there, it fits perfectly! But the 2016 calendar seems much more balanced than previous years, which is really good to see – it’s lovely to be writing this kind of article and focusing on the positives, because a few years ago this wasn’t the case at all.
Talking about context… in Part 3, tomorrow, I’ll look at how 2016 fits into the overall pattern of how women’s UCI racing has been changing over the last decade, including numbers of race days, and where the changes have been happening. If you have any questions about that, or anything I’ve looked at in these articles, please do leave me a comment, or ask me on twitter, and I’ll try to answer. And of course, if you think I’m wrong about anything, or have missed anything out, tell me that too!
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