Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team is back in action in Vårgårda, Sweden this weekend for two one-day UCI Women’s WorldTour races. The action begins on Friday 19 August with a team time trial and ends on Sunday 21 August with a road race. Chantal Blaak, who has won both the team time trial (when racing for the now defunct Specialized-lululemon) and the road race, previews the weekend.
“My victory in Sweden was one of my best,” said Blaak. “I had a long time without winning races or good results. It was a tough time for me. I started the 2014 season on a good level, and at the end of the year, I was able to win the World Cup. It’s what I worked for, and it was a really great feeling.”
“From 2014, I’ve made steps and I’m strong, but I’m the same rider that won the World Cup two years ago,” Blaak added. “I’m good in one day races, and a course like Sweden suits me. The only difference now is that I’m more stable and I have more confidence in my possibilities.”
Blaak isn’t the only Boels-Dolmans rider well-suited to the Swedish races. The Dutchwoman will be joined by three former Vårgårda team time trial winners in Karol-Ann Canuel (2014-2015), UCI Hour Record Holder Evie Stevens (2012-2014) and Ellen van Dijk (2012-2013) as well UCI World Champion Lizzie Armitstead and Kasia Pawlowska. Armitstead currently sits in second place in the UCI Women’s WorldTour behind teammate Megan Guarnier. Stevens is ranked fourth in the UCI Women’s WorldTour, five spots ahead of Blaak in ninth.
“We are here with a strong team for both races,” said Blaak. “We have a good mix of riders for any situation in the road race and a group that’s very motivated to win the team time trial.”
For teams with a focus on the team time trial, the importance of Friday’s race cannot be understated. The event is the only team time trial in the UCI Women’s WorldTour and the only standalone team time trial the women’s peloton races all season. Coming seven weeks ahead of the 2016 UCI Road World Championships in Qatar, the race offers teams an important opportunity to test their selected squad and strategies and see how they stack up against the competition.
Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team finished in second place in the team time trial in Vårgårda last year. In April 2016, a six-rider squad, including Blaak, won the opening stage team time trial at Energiewacht Tour to give Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team its first win in the collective discipline in the team’s four-year history.
“We’re all looking forward to the team time trial,” said Blaak. “I really love and really hate the discipline. It’s so hard but so cool when you go fast together.”
“We start with a strong team,” Blaak added. “It’s a good test to see what we need to work on in the next two months before Worlds.”
The Crescent Vårgårda team time trial covers 42.5 kilometres over an out-and-back course. Largely flat, the route includes a handful of short, gradual climbs and incorporates bits of the circuit used in Sunday’s road race.
“It looks like it will rain on Friday,” noted Blaak. “Raining or not, the TTT is always hard. Hopefully the weather is the same for everyone.”
The forecast for Sunday also calls for rain, and it’s likely the peloton will line up for 141-kilometre race in the wet. Blaak’s big win in 2014 came in filthy condition, which played to her strengths.
“The road race can be harder in the rain, and I like that,” said Blaak. “When I won, it was raining and the race broke completely apart. Last year, it was beautiful weather and the race ended in a sprint.”
The Crescent Vårgårda road race includes one longer lap of 53-kilometres – a new addition to the course introduced last year – and eights times around an 11-lap circuit. The small circuit lap includes sharp turns and a short but steep climb that wears on the legs. The longer lap is undulating with one section of dirt road and gorgeous scenery and comes in the middle of the race with four times around the circuit both before and after the 53-kilometre loop.
“I like the circuit lap,” said Blaak. “It’s a bit technical and the climb gets harder and harder every lap.”
“In this race everything can happen, and we’ve come with a team that can handle every situation,” Blaak added. “We’ll see what the race brings. We’re hoping for lots of action.”
How to follow Crescent Vårgårda:
Sunday’s road race will be broadcast live on Eurosport. Details on how to watch can be found here.
Follow the official race hashtag #VargardaWWT and #UCIWWT for live race updates. We’ll be tweeting at @boelsdolmansct. The official race account is @vargardawwt, and @uciwomencycling may have updates, too.
Boels-Dolmans for Vårgårda:
Ellen van Dijk
Editor's note: This preview originally said that Megan Guarnier would miss the remaining four rounds of the UCI Women's WorldTour series. This is incorrect. She is back in action at GP Plouay.