A look ahead to Saturday's women's road race at the 2014 UCI Road World Championships in Ponferrada, Spain
When: Saturday September 27 2014
Distance: 127km (seven laps)
Where to watch: LIVE on BBC 1 from 14:00-16:00, highlights on BBC website shortly after
The women’s calendar has undergone some significant changes in 2014. The introduction of the Women’s Tour, held in Britain back in May, provided the peloton the opportunity to compete in their own stand-alone race, with the kind of financial backing and television coverage that the men regularly enjoy.
Then in July, the inaugural La Course finally allowed the women to take part in the most prestigious cycling race of them all, the Tour de France, albeit it just the final Champs-Elysees stage.
Both these races look as though they may mark the beginning of a new era in women’s cycling and ought to gradually grow in prestige, but for now the World Championships Road Race continues to be the apex of the season.
The Worlds remain unique in that men’s and women’s events are ran alongside each other in equal esteem, with the women’s road race not being held merely as a sideshow to the men’s race, but featuring in the headline slot of Saturday afternoon.
As such, most of the biggest names in the peloton have flocked to Ponferrada aiming to win the biggest prize in women’s cycling outside of the Olympics – the rainbow jersey.
Marianne Vos is of course the biggest name of all, and is seeking a third consecutive world title. The Dutchwoman may not have been quite as prolific this season as we’ve grown used to, but in the very biggest races she has dominated, winning the aforementioned Women’s Tour and La Course, as well as the Giro Rosa.
Her record at the Worlds is extraordinary. Having won her first title in 2006 aged just 19, she went on an infuriating albeit very impressive run of five successive runner-up finishes, prior to winning the past two editions.
But this week her rivals have been offered some hope in the seemingly impossible task of beating her. She looked uncharacteristically weak at Worlds Team Time Trial event on Sunday, as she was dropped by her teammates. To some extent this can be explained by the strength of her team, but with Anna van der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten both caught up in a crash that has ruled them out of the road race, Vos looks, for once, vulnerable.
Leading the challenge against the reigning champion will be Great Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead. The 25-year old has enjoyed her best season to date, winning the World Cup for the first time in her career, as well as gold at the Commonwealth Games. But her wins have tended to come in Vos’ absence, with the Dutchwoman almost always getting the better of her when the pair do compete head to head, the 2012 Olympics being the most memorable example.
Armitstead is unlikely to beat Vos in a sprint, so will have to animate the race and drop her rival before the finish. The route may not be the most difficult, but still offers ample opportunity for the better climbers to break clear.
Vos is beatable, but victory will be a big ask for Armitstead, especially with the other hurdles of Emma Johansson, Pauline Ferrand Prevot and an Italian team that looks suited to every possible scenario. With Bradley Wiggins delivering gold in the time-trial on Wednesday, can she make this week even more of a success for British cycling?
2013 Marianne Vos (Ned)
2012 Marianne Vos (Ned)
2011 Giorgia Bronzini (Ita)
2010 Giorgia Bronzini (Ita)
2009 Tatiana Guderzo (Ita)
2008 Nicole Cooke (GBr)
2007 Marta Bastianelli (Ita)
2006 Marianne Vos (Ned)
2005 Regina Schleicher (Ger)
2004 Judith Arndt (Ger)