In His Own Words: Sport Director Martin Barras Previews EnergieWacht Tour

Tue 2 Apr 2013

ORICA-AIS has had a successful start to their European season in the one day races in Belgium, Holland and Italy that make up the European spring classics season. Tiffany Cromwell scored a win in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in late February, and the team has been on the podium each subsequent race except Classica Citta di Padova. With the Ladies Tour of Qatar nearly two months ago, the Australian outfit is eager to test their stage racing legs at the first European stage race of the year. They bring a strong, five rider team to the EnergieWacht Tour that begins in Holland on April 3.

Like typical Dutch racing, the six stages over five days of racing will feature pan flat roads characterized by ubiquitous wind and cobbles. Each day the peloton will display a fierce style of racing that requires polished skill, steely resolve and unrelenting persistence. Last year’s tour wasn’t decided until the final stage when Specialized-lululemon won the team time trial (TTT) that nudged Ina Yoko-Teutenberg onto the top step over Marianne Vos (Rabo Women).

This year there is no nail biting team finale but rather an individual time trial on day three. On each of the other stages, riders hoping to gain a top position on the general classification (GC) will fight tooth and nail for the precious intermediate time bonus sprints. In his own words, Sport Director Martin Barras previews the stage race.

As the first major European tour for us, EnergieWacht allows us to gauge ourselves. From a GC perspective, we expect both Loes [Gunnewijk] and Shara [Gillow] to put themselves to the test. The first significant time trial of the season will play a large determining factor in how they will rate against the competition.

We are also "bleeding" Sue [Sungeun Gu] and Nettie [Annette Edmondson] at this level. This is Sue’s first stage race with the team, and Nettie has yet to race on the road following her hugely successful performance at the Track World Championships six weeks ago. For us, EnergieWacht is about finding our feet in a top notch stage race.

There are a lot of younger/less experienced riders on our team for this tour. Luckily, in Loes, they have the best possible team captain to lead them – and she takes this leader's role on her home turf! The girls will all get a first class experience coming together in this style of racing under the tutelage of such an experienced team captain. I am particularly encouraged by Sue's progression and endeavour so far. She is making up for her lack of European experience with hard work and a willingness to learn that is impressive. Gotta love "Sushi Power"!!! (Sue and Amanda Spratt explain “Sushi Power” here – check it out.)

Like ORICA-GreenEDGE, we believe in first building a strong classics line up. We have confidence in our ability to convert a classics team into a successful stage racing team. We are a bit shy on pure climbers but feel really confident on any flatter races. EnergieWacht is pancake flat, so we feel self-assured on this terrain.

We were meant to have two sprinters with us in Holland. Unfortunately, we were forced to pull Melissa Hoskins from the EnergieWacht Tour to allow her to treat a back problem that has flared up in the last couple days. Upon the advice of team physician, Dr. Peter Barnes, she will take four or five days off the bike before resuming her training. We expect Mel to go to Italy and train with the team before resuming racing at the Omloop van Borsele on April 20.

While Mel will be missed, I cannot be happier to finally be able to bring a proper bunch sprinter to this race. This was a tactical option we very seldom had last year and although Nettie needs a fair degree of experience and exposure, she will be a top shelf sprinter before season ends. Considering our relative lack of experience, we need first to work out how we will sort our sprinter and lead out train. It will take a couple of days to find the formula most suited to us but expect to see us contesting all sprints. Having a good combination of sprinters and all around riders allows us to take a few more risks. I am really excited about this - bring it on!

We will certainly miss the TTT as we tend to perform well in this discipline and we are freshly out of TTT camp. Having the ITT mid-tour will establish what chance we have on GC and potentially means the race will open up a little. It's funny but the ITT also combines my favourite road section where the race historically has had substantial splits in the bunch.

I am a big advocate of paying attention to the first day of racing. Often the early days will not win us the overall, but we can certainly lose it in the first stage or two. Otherwise, it's typical northern Dutch racing. The riders have to be willing to bleed in the echelons all day long, stay attentive and make more splits than the competition.

I expect a very disciplined race from our team. This will involve keeping three to four riders in contention for GC until the ITT. This will also involve contesting all bunch sprints with an organised train. Finally the blueprint of our race will be the one we are known for in women's cycling: Whatever we do or try will be done with the purpose of winning.

One of the best thing about EnergieWacht Tour is how easy they make it for fans to follow the race. Each stage is shown on regional television channel RTL7 and for the last two editions of the race, video was also shown on the race website. You can find the race schedule here. Check out their technical guide here and a compilation video from last year here.

The race organization does a fantastic job with Twitter updates in both Dutch and English and also has a live ticker. This year they’re running a fun promo – offering up an EnergieWacht shirt signed by the race winner to those who wish their favourite rider or team good luck with a video, card, or photo shared on their Facebook wall or via Twitter. So, wish us luck for your chance to win.

ORICA-AIS for EnergieWacht Tour:

Annette Edmondson (@nettieedmondson)
Gracie Elvin (@gracieelvin)
Loes Gunnewijk (@loesgunnewijk)
Shara Gillow (@sharagillow)
Sungeun Gu (@eun1709)