The women’s road race is on today and features the same start and finish but cuts out the Fuji and Mikuni mountains to make for a more hectic race that will be harder to predict in the finish, although who’d bet against another Dutch win?
The Course: 137km and over 2,500m of vertical gain. As the race has to start in Tokyo given it’s the Tokyo Olympics and they’ve opted for a shorter course there’s no room for Fuji nor Mikuni. This blog doesn’t often cover women’s cycling – perhaps the picks below will prove why – but one of the pet peeves here is that too much of the coverage of women’s cycling is about the coverage of women’s cycling, understandable but it can crowd out coverage of the sport and its athletes. So yesterday was the time to bemoan the course, today is about enjoying the race to come… So it’s the now familiar route out of the city via the Tama hills to Sagamihara, twisting around suburbia via several unmarked climbs that don’t show on the profile but tell on the legs.
From here it’s the road to Dōshi and the Yamabushi pass, a 38km portion of road that gradually gains in elevation and has some sections where it pays to change chainrings but otherwise it’s fast until the final five kilometres. There’s a hairpin bend and a final ramp to the pass which goes via a tunnel.
Then it’s the long way around Laka Yamanaka to the foot of the Kagosaka pass. This is roughly 2.5km at 5% and a big ring kind of climb and comes with 40km to go. Anyone dropped here can hope to get back on the descent which longer, fast and not very technical, there are bends but the road is wide and well-engineered. Once the descent is over there are some local roads with rolling hills to reach the Fuji Speedway circuit.
The Finish: one and three quarter laps around the Fuji Speedway and again this is no dragster course. It’s into the circuit via the sapping climb that Richard Carapaz used to ditch Brandon McNulty before a tour of the tarmac circuit that then heads out into Oyama town on some lumpy roads before going back to the circuit and tackling the “Carapaz” climb once more.
The Contenders: if the men’s peloton yesterday felt small with under 130 riders, here’s a field of 67 although it’s more dense, a higher proportion of the world’s best riders are here rather than sitting at home compared to the men.
When national Olympic committees sit down to work out where they’re likely to strike gold, whoever was doing this for the Dutch NOC*NSF probably put “cycling, women’s road race” at the top of their list. After all Anna van der Breggen won in Rio, Marianne Vos in London while Annemiek van Vleuten has won everything except the Olympics and it feels like a matter of time until Demi Vollering wins. The only problem is four captains and a “too many cooks spoil the dashi” scenario but each time the worlds happens the Dutch manage, taking the rainbow jersey every year since 2017. Still on a hot course not having an obvious helper is a problem but a luxurious position other selectors would love to have.
Rival countries have different tactics. Some can hold tight and pray for a sprint in the hope that they might get the better of Vos and Vollering but on the hilly circuits by the finish the field will be reduced and any sprinters remaining will have blunt legs. Still this is a card the likes of Emma Norsgaard (Denmark), Coryn Rivera (USA) and Lotte Kopecky (Belgium) could play.
Another tactic is to get in a move with at least one Dutch rider and hope that this keeps the others at bay. If other nations attack then yes a Dutch rider could sit on but at least the breakaway knows who their opponent is. Here the likes of Kasia Niewiadoma (Poland), Grace Brown (Australia), Soraya Paladin (Italy) or Juliette Labous (France) can take a risk in order to lose. Meanwhile Lizzie Deignan (Great Britain) will need to take risks but it’s less risky to back her chances of delivering. A part of every neutral must want Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Denmark) to win if only for the post-race reaction and while she’s good on punchy courses, today’s maybe not hard enough.
Chloe Dygert (USA) has based everything on the Olympics this year and while the TT is the big goal if she has the form of years past then she could just try to barge away and while she’ll lack the reflexes from regular racing in the peloton, the wide roads aren’t too stressful. Less of an engine but in a similar manner Mavi Garcia (Spain) can go for a solo raid too. The same for Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy) but with more finesse. If they rode up Mikuni then Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (South Africa) would have a strong chance but absent a summit finish it’s much harder for the climbers.
|Marianne Vos, Anna van der Breggen|
|Demi Vollering, Annemiek van Vleuten|
|Lizzie Deignan, Elisa Longo Borghini, Coryn Rivera|
|Niewiadoma, Bastianelli, Kopecky, Brennauer|
|Moolman, Spratt, Cavalli, Paladin, Gigante,|
Weather: sunshine turning cloudy and hot again with 31°C but a touch less humid.
TV: live from start to finish, the race starts at 1.00pm JST and should finish around 5.15pm JST, this makes it 6.00am – 10.15am for those on CEST in Europe, 5.00am-9.15am for British viewers and midnight-4.00am EST for those in the US East Coast. If you’re in Europe and need more sleep, you could tune in after two hours for the upper section of the Yamabushi pass and beyond.
Ganbatte Eri-san: Eri Yonamine is one of the home riders. A ITF-ranked tennis player, she took up cycling at university, started riding more, including a long tour towards Mount Fuji and now, via multiple national titles and long spells living in Europe, is back to the same roads she once toured on as a beginner. 17th in Rio, today should be a great homecoming but Yonamine had a difficult spring campaign this year and as she explained in her blog couldn’t find the reason until iliac artery endofibrosis was diagnosed. It’s almost an occupational hazard for pro cyclists and the symptoms of a lack of power from one leg probably need to be trumpeted more. It affects a surprising amount of riders, think Pauline Ferrand-Prevot and the remedy is often surgery. Only Yonamine’s diagnosis is so recent she was faced with having surgery and sitting out the games, or trying to train and race by mitigating and managing the condition. She starts today because of opting for the latter, having adjusted her position.