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A tough early test in Hastings will give the women a chance to fire an opening salvo for 2013. 

Last year’s winner Amy Stauffer will have her hands full with one of the most packed and exciting women’s field in the history of the Barry-Roubaix. With almost none of the team tactics in play like in the Men’s race, the women will battle woman-to-woman over the muddy 62 mile course. For the stronger riders, their best interest will lie in breaking up the race early and trusting that their group of two or three will be fast than another group of two or three a few minutes behind.

Here’s a look at the big names and dark horses for this Saturday.

Amy Stauffer, Priority Health. A big win last year launched a solid 2012 campaign for Stauffer, who led the Top Banana Competition until late August. For 2013, though, she’ll face her first showdown with Mackenzie Woodring and Lauri Brockmiller, and do so with the advantage of home turf as her best weapon. For this weekend, she’s a big favorite and the main antagonist, but can she ride smart once again as a marked rider?

Mackenzie Woodring, Einstein Racing. She’s the Fabian Cancellara to Stauffer’s Tom Boonen, or vice versa. These two riders are expected to control and dominate the race, and for Woodring, it’s a chance to take a title she’s held before and was forced to miss last year due to injury. She’s going to have Chelsea Strate alongside at the start, but if the race goes anything like expected, it will be a very small group surviving to the final tense miles.

Lauri Brockmiller, Hagerty Racing. The long-time lieutenant to Susan Vigland has adopted Barry-Roubaix as a target in 2013. She’s restructured her winter to be prepared in late March and won’t be afraid to cross swords with the likes of Woodring or Stauffer. She may even be just under the radar enough to sneak away late if she can catch other riders looking at each other.

Molly Hurford, Colavita. The Cyclocross Magazine editor was mysteriously coast to the Mitten to give the Killer a try, and she’s been longing big miles to build for the race. She won’t be familiar with the course, but with all the changes from past editions, that won’t be much of a handicap at all. She’s competed in Elite cyclocross races around the country and won’t be intimidated  by the very strong 43 women field at the line. She’ll be a likely candidate to join Woodring and Stauffer in a tense sprint to the line.

Kim Chapman, Algoma Bicycle Co. The orange and white from Canada should be around the leaders, and Kim Chapman is always dangerous in bad conditions. A top-flight cyclocross racer and a rider used to sub-par conditions will be looking to improve on last year’s 6th place finish. A slower race with mud favors Chapman, and she is smart enough to take advantage of any mistakes by the other women.

Sam Brode, Cleveland Clinic. She’s won this race before and took an impressive second last year, and Brode will be looking to bag another Roubaix. Along with a number of other riders, she is a solid candidate to hang around late. With none of the women riding with a large number of teammates, a lot of the race will come down to smart riding and short-term collaboration to make any gaps stick. Brode has ridden this race enough to understand how the climbs and the wind can change in a second, and so would be a great ally for any breakaway attempt.

The Bold Prediction

It’s early and no one has seen much of these women in past months. Woodring doesn’t race unless she can win, so expect her to ride aggressively to break down the group to something a little more manageable. She’s riding as a big favorite, so she’ll be marked and may not receive much help from other riders. Still, she should win solo across the line, and I’d guess there will be a bunch sprint of around eight riders for the rest of the podium and top ten. Look for Stauffer in second, Hurford in third and Brockmiller and Chapman to fill out the top five.