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One-day races out and stage races in as women’s peloton switches gears for May

After just three stage races in the opening months of the season, the women's peloton faces 10 in the next month, including two new events.

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One-day races are so last week as the women’s peloton turns its focus to stage racing in the final part of the spring.

It’s a quirk, or perhaps a design, of the women’s cycling calendar that stage races have been few and far between in the opening months of the season. In fact, the first three months have seen just three stage races for the women’s peloton.

The Setmana Ciclista Valenciana was the first one of the 2022 season in February, and the Bloeizone Fryslan Tour followed two weeks later. Since then, there’s only been the three-day Tour of Thailand earlier this month.

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Instead, the racing scene has been dominated by one-day events, the spring cobbled classics in particular. In fact, there have been 31 days of one-day racing in the opening two and a half months, 10 of which have been WorldTour level.

It is a run of competition that has stretched some of the teams very thin with more race days than ever and most teams still operating on fairly small rosters, with the WorldTeams having between 12 and 15 on average. Injuries and COVID-19 have meant that some teams have regularly had to field the bare minimum roster at races.

The switch from one-day to stage races means a slight change in pace, but it is no less relentless with some 10 multi-day events before the end of May, three of which come this week. Mercifully for some teams, there is a two-week break in the WorldTour calendar with the first-ever Itzulia Women the next top-flight race beginning on May 13.

Lotte Kopecky the queen of the spring

There was no one dominant rider over the opening months of the season but Lotte Kopecky was the queen of the 2022 spring with her wins at Strade Bianche and the Tour of Flanders in addition to a second place at Paris-Roubaix. It was a stark contrast to her 2021 spring, which was beset by misfortune and mechanical issues.

Her switch to SD Worx over the winter no doubt helped her make the step up, though the team’s questionable tactics possibly cost her a win at Paris-Roubaix. Nevertheless, Kopecky looked to be the best she’s ever been.

Not far behind Kopecky in the fight for the queen of the spring title were a number of big-name riders and rising stars.

At one point in March, it seemed as though Elisa Balsamo was going to win everything she rode with wins at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Exterioo Brugge-De Panne, and Gent-Wevelgem in the space of eight days. Her winning streak came to an end with a difficult Tour of Flanders and a disqualification at Paris-Roubaix brought a close to her spring.

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Like Kopecky, she swapped the asphalt for the boards as she took to the track for the first round of the nations cup in Glasgow.

Annemiek van Vleuten won less than Kopecky and Balsamo in the early part of the season, but she was the rider that defined the latter part of the spring classics. Van Vleuten rode five times in between her wins at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, finishing second on three occasions and fourth in another. The only outlier was Dwars door Vlaanderen, which finished with a small bunch sprint.

Marta Cavalli was another star of the spring as she enjoyed a string of breakthrough performances. After a slightly disappointing Tour of Flanders, she stormed to a win at the Amstel Gold Race and then La Flèche Wallonne, taking fifth at the Tour of Flanders in the middle.

Both Van Vleuten and Cavalli will be ones to watch as the stage racing ramps up, as will Elisa Longo Borghini. The Italian champion has to get the award for comeback of the year so far after almost pulling out of Paris-Roubaix due to illness before going on to win it solo.

What next?

The stage race portion of the spring kicks off with two 2.2 multi-day events in the Tour of the Gila (April 27 to May 1) in the U.S. and Gracia-Orlova (April 28 to May 1) in the Czech Republic. The two events will give smaller squads and national teams a chance to fight for wins, though EF Education-TIBCO-SVB will have a small roster at the Tour of the Gila — including Kristabel Doebel-Hickok and Emily Newsom.

After a busy period of action, most of the WorldTour teams will be enjoying a much-needed break to allow their riders to rest up and recover from any ailments they may have.

The three-day Festival Elsy Jacobs (April 29 to May 1) will welcome half the WorldTour squads to its race but defending champion Emma Norsgaard won’t be present with Movistar not set to compete. The event, which is named for women’s cycling legend Elsy Jacobs, is traditionally a fast and furious affair and a chance for the sprinters to shine.

The short prologue often proves decisive in the fight for the overall title but not always with Norsgaard taking the overall title after winning both sprint stages, despite finishing 10th in the TT.

There’s no rest for the wicked and the busy period continues with the inaugural three-day women’s Ruta del Sol (May 3 to 5) and the five-day Bretagne Ladies Tour (May 3 to 7), which has been on hold since 2019 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The 2019 Bretagne Ladies Tour was the first edition under new management as the race was revived following three-year hiatus.

Both events will provide lots of tricky rolling terrain for the climbers to get stuck into.

One-day races aren’t completely banished from the calendar and there will be a string of them across Italy, Belgium, France, and Spain through the second week of May. Key among them will be the Gran Premio Ciudad de Eibar and the Emakumeen Nafarroako Klasikoa, which provide an exciting buildup to the inaugural Itzulia Women (May 13 to 15).

The three-day race marks the return of the WorldTour on May 13 in a doubleheader with the four-day Vuelta a Burgos (May 19 to 22) with the one-day Durango Durango Emakumeen Saria sandwiched in between. It will be climber heaven in Spain and most of the biggest stars will be present on the start line.

Rounding up the stage racing spring will be the six-day Thüringen Ladies Tour (May 24 to 29), which has been around since the mid-1980s and is one of the most established races on the women’s calendar, and the reformatted three-day RideLondon Classique (May 27 to 29).

Though there will be a bit more climbing in the RideLondon Classique compared to its previous incarnation, thanks to a trip into Epping Forrest, both the German and British stage races will be defined by the sprint contests.

RideLondon will lead into the Women’s Tour, which starts a week later in June, creating another WorldTour doubleheader for the riders to get stuck into.