Preview: The world versus Vos

Marianne Vos' form is in question after a disappointing worlds team time trial. Saturday's elite women's road race may be wide open

PONFERRADA, Spain (VN) — It’s the world versus Marianne Vos in Saturday’s battle for the rainbow jersey.

The two-time defending world champion rides into Ponferrada’s hilly, unpredictable course as the five-star favorite, but there were ominous signs that the Dutch champion might not be at the top of her game, giving hope to her rivals.

Vos struggled in Sunday’s team time trial, getting dropped by her Rabo-Liv team, but her rivals know that Vos is a danger in every race she starts.

“You can never underestimate her. Come race day, she’s always going to come up good,” said Australia’s Tiffany Cromwell. “She can win any race. You can never discount her.”

There were other signs that perhaps Vos has come into this worlds a bit fried. One team manager said Vos was so strong so early in the season that she might not be up to reloading for the worlds.

More troubling were injuries suffered last weekend by two key helpers on the Dutch team, Anna Van der Breggen and Annemiek Van Vleuten. Both were transported to a local hospital, and will not start Saturday.

When asked if Vos is beatable, arch-rival Emma Johansson (Sweden) said she tries not to obsess over Vos.

“Everyone is beatable,” Johansson said. “For me, it’s about being the best I can be on Saturday. If that’s good enough to win, I don’t know. I hope it is, but I am not going to focus on others.”

Vos pulled out of two stage races earlier this month — at the Boels Rental Ladies Tour on home roads and the Lotto Belisol Belgian Tour — both planned departures to remain fresh for Ponferrada, but some are wondering what’s going on with the usually voracious Vos. Another rumor is that Vos suffers from back problems.

Besides, the Australians, Germans, and Italians all bring strong squads. The British show promise with a very fit and confident Lizzie Armitstead.

The U.S. team also brings a deep squad, with strong climbers Evelyn Stevens and Mara Abbott as well as sprinter Shelley Olds.

“We are the dark horses. There are so many great teams out there. We have quality, but I wouldn’t call us the favorites,” Stevens said. “What I am most excited about Saturday is that it’s open. I think a lot of people can win.”

Descending and positioning will be key in the race, something that will prove critical in who can arrive to the line to contest the medals.

After watching the U23 men’s race, many elite women and men are reconsidering how their races will unfold over the weekend, but the women know the Dutch, and more specifically, Vos, is whom they have to beat.

“After watching the U23 men, it’s changed a few things. Maybe it won’t come down to a sprint after all,” said Australia’s Rachel Neylan. “The Dutch team is extraordinarily well-drilled to ride together, and to make it hard to eliminate the pure sprinters. I remember in London 2012 Olympics, the Dutch made it so hard, it created opportunities for Vos to go alone, and she only had to sprint against two. That could very well be their tactic for Saturday.”

If Vos is Vos, the race will be on for second. If Vos reveals she’s human after all, it could be a real cracking race.