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Weekend preview: Women’s racing, can’t-miss summit finishes

The Women's WorldTour goes Dutch, Paris-Nice wraps up with a climber's delight, and Tirreno offers its only mountaintop finish.

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This weekend features the second Women’s WorldTour (WWT) race, Ronde van Drenthe, and pivotal stages at both Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico. Thankfully, the race organizers have been kind to cycling fans: Paris-Nice’s major mountaintop finish is Saturday and Tirreno’s is Sunday. Drenthe finishes an hour before Paris-Nice, so you can catch both. You won’t want to miss any of it.

Ronde van Drenthe women’s race

After a winter spent primarily on the track, ending last weekend with the world championships, Jolien D’hoore of Wiggle – High5 will line up at Ronde van Drenthe to defend her 2015 title. The one-day race is the second on the Women’s WorldTour calendar, and features a unique little test: the Vam-berg, which climbs up a landfill with grades over 20 percent. D’Hoore will see stiff competition from Boels – Dolmans rider Lizzie Armitstead, who won the race in 2014 and is coming off a string of four straight wins — including the first-ever WWT race, Strade Bianche.

“I will have to wait and see how my legs react after so much track time,” D’hoore said. “We have a very strong team and I’m convinced that we can pull off a great team result together. I’m excited to be back and super motivated for Saturday.”

There are 13 Americans on the start list: Shelley Olds and Alison Tetrick (Cylance); Carmen Small (Bigla); Megan Guarnier (Boels – Dolmans); Alexis Ryan (Canyon – SRAM); Tayler Wiles (Orica – AIS); Lauren Hall, Lauren Stephens, Lauren Komanski, and Brianna Walle (Tibco – SVB); and Coryn Rivera, Abby Mickey, and Katie Hall (UnitedHealthcare).

Broadcaster RTV will livestream the race Saturday beginning at 7:30 a.m. ET and ending just after 9 a.m.

Paris-Nice’s hilly denouement

The “race to the sun” is capped by a pair of mountainous stages that will decide its overall winner. Saturday’s penultimate stage starts in Nice and finishes 177km later at La Madone d’Utelle (not to be confused with the Col de la Madone), a twisting, difficult climb that is a favorite training ground of Nice-based Americans Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale) and Ian Boswell (Sky). Boswell is in the race, his first after a two-week training camp with Chris Froome in South Africa. It’s the only true mountaintop finish of the weeklong stage race, and is likely to decide the winner.

The overall is shaping up to be a battle between defending champion Richie Porte of BMC Racing, Alberto Contador of Tinkoff, French hope Romain Bardet of Ag2r La Mondiale, Sky’s Geraint Thomas, and the man who astonished us all at the Vuelta last fall, Giant – Alpecin’s Tom Dumoulin.

To catch Saturday’s final climb, tune in around 10 a.m. ET.

Sunday starts and finishes in Nice, taking on six categorized climbs. The last of the day is Paris-Nice’s favorite climb, Col d’Eze, which is frequently used for time trials. The finish is a fast one back into Nice — barring bad weather, it’s unlikely to dramatically alter the overall. But anything is possible.

Nibali wants Tirreno-Adriatico

Don’t miss Sunday’s finish, the race’s stage 5, which features a mountaintop finale at Monte San Vicino that may decide the race.

Vincenzo Nibali of Astana desperately wants to start 2016 off on the right foot after a 2015 to forget. Winning a major Italian stage race would certainly do the trick. But to win Tirreno, he’ll first have to close the 15-second deficit to BMC Racing’s Tejay van Garderen and the six-second gap to FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot that opened in the opening-stage team time trial. Then he’ll need to hold off Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde, LottoNL – Jumbo’s Bauke Mollema, and Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski, whose team hopes he can take his first major stage race victory since Volta a Algarve in 2014. It won’t be easy for the “Shark of Messina.”

Tune in no later than 9:45 a.m. ET Sunday to watch the final climb.