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Annemiek van Vleuten: Women’s calendar needs to be ‘reanalyzed’ to better spread out races

Dutchwoman says the length of women's races has not 'reached the limit' but adds that not all races need to be over 200km.

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Annemiek van Vleuten believes that the UCI should rework the women’s calendar so there is a better balance between one-day and stage races.

Van Vleuten opened her season with eh four-day Setmana Ciclista Valenciana and then the one-day Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Strade Bianche at the end of February. Her brief opening campaign was followed by three weeks at altitude before she returned to racing at Dwars door Vlaanderen at the end of March.

While Van Vleuten is partial to a bit of altitude training, she’d have preferred to stay in the racing groove through March, but the calendar forced her away. Speaking to VeloNews earlier in the season, she said she would like to see a rethink of the calendar so the spread of events across the whole year is better.

“In March it is more for sprinters and flat racing and it’s a bit sad that we have then all the stages races back together,” Van Vleuten told VeloNews. “Maybe it could be better in the future that [the UCI] reanalyze our calendar. I would also like to have a bit of an earlier stage race but now they’re really together in July and August.

“In the early spring, you have a small race in Netherlands, but for the rest there’s nothing and it’s better to spread it out. We also have two big WorldTour stage races at Burgos and Itzulia, for my team they’re very important, but we don’t have many others other than Valencia.”

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Van Vleuten was forced to miss the two Spanish stage races this May after breaking her wrist in a training crash in April. She will have a very busy summer period as she will take on the general classification of the Giro d’Italia Donne and the Tour de France Femmes. Both races are packed into a one-month period with the Giro setting off from Caligari on June 30 and finishing in Padova on July 10.

There is a 13-day rest before the Tour begins in Paris on July 24 and then finishes on the Planches des Belles Filles on July 31. Van Vleuten is one of only a few riders to put both races on her calendar and even fewer that will target the GC in both.

Van Vleuten was keen to take on both races, but she would prefer to see a bigger gap between the two, particularly with a string of big WorldTour stage races in the final part of the season.

“It would be better to have more spread out the stage races. I like a challenge so that’s why I challenged myself to do them both, but I would have preferred to have them more separated from each other,” she said.

“Especially also with the Battle of the North coming up. We need a balanced women’s calendar. Our sport is evolving, so maybe next year or the year after, it’s probably time to reanalyze the calendar and maybe optimize it.”

In future, she would like to perhaps see the women’s Giro have a stronger connection with the men’s race. The Giro d’Italia Donne is organized by the Italian national federation while the men’s race is organized by RCS.

While they do have separate organizers, RCS confirmed earlier this year that it was in talks with the Giro d’Italia Donne to bring the races closer together in the calendar.

“I really like that the Tour de France starts on the last day of the guys and maybe, for example, we can also do something like finish on the last day of the Giro of the men. We can have something that’s still related, but not all at the same time,” Van Vleuten said.

Longer women’s races, but not too long

As women’s cycling has developed in recent years, the races have been getting longer. This year will see the longest day in women’s racing for a very long time with stage 5 a whopping 175 kilometers.

Meanwhile, the one-day classics have grown out to around 150 kilometers with this year’s Tour of Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem topping out at 159k.

Increasing the length of women’s races is a fine balancing act for organizers who want to make races more challenging for a peloton that is increasing in depth, while also trying to maintain the excitement factor that has drawn many fans to women’s racing. Van Vleuten believes that there can and should be longer women’s races but says that organizers should be careful which ones they continue to extend.

“I think it’s good to keep that in mind,” she said. “A race that is flat can have more kilometers to make more a race of attrition to see how big the group is coming for the sprints. [Gent-Wevelgem] could have been longer. I think we are not on the limit yet.

“It is also important that you keep things exciting, but our level is also growing. I would not be surprised if some races in the future will be a bit longer to make them have an interesting fight in the final. Otherwise, maybe too often it will end up in a sprint or too many girls will be there. So, I think for example, Milan-San Remo for sure is possible for us. We don’t need to have 260k but maybe it’s cool to have a 200-kilometer Milan-San Remo.

“We don’t need a 200-kilometer Tour of Flanders but for Milan-San Remo, one that is more flat and about the attrition in the end to make a difference on the Poggio, I would be happy if there’s at least one race in the future that is 200 kilometers.”

While the women’s peloton is getting a growing amount of specialists, the riders still largely have to spread their skills over a wider variety of terrains. In contrast, the men’s bunch is far more rigid in the roles that the riders play.

However, recent seasons have seen younger riders like Tadej Pogačar, Mathieu van der Poel, and Tom Pidcock breaking the mold and trying their hands at a range of races that some of the previous generations would have steered clear of.

It’s spiced up men’s racing a lot in the last couple of years and Van Vleuten says that it’s not the length of the races but the way riders take them on that is most important.

“It’s cool that Pogacar is also racing the classics, it gives a different dynamic. Milan-San Remo was a sprinter race before and now we also have some climbers that are joining,” she said. “I think it’s not the length, but it’s more the fight that is now there and there are different riders surprisingly showing up at some races. That’s cool.

“In the women’s cycling thing now, for example, Lorena Wiebes so fast that I have the feeling that all the teams without such fast sprinters have different tactics to be aggressive earlier. There are more teams that really have a race plan, and that’s what, in the end, makes it also more interesting with the women but also the men.”