Round Four of the 2017 Women’s Team Series saw the riders heading to the Banbury Star Road Race for three laps of a fifteen mile course, each of which would require the riders to ascend the challenging Edge Hill. The race also marked the welcome return of Nikki Juniper (Team Ford EcoBoost) to competition following her serious crash at the Tour of the Wolds in April.
As the race proper started on the B4100 heading north towards Warmington, Jenny Rutter and Melissa Brand of Team Ford EcoBoost asserted themselves at the front of the peloton, with Juniper tucked a length behind. Other riders prominent at this stage were Natasha Reddy (Team Vision Innovative Leisure), Hannah Nicklin (Twickenham CC) and 2016 Manx GP Winner Kimberley Ashton (Casp Racing).
Passing the church at Warmington, the riders started the decent towards Gaydon and the turn that would take them back towards Edge Hill for the first time. This was the trigger for the first in a series of race-disrupting attacks by Ford EcoBoost’s Kelly Murphy, which would set a pattern for the remainder of the race; afterwards, when the chase group had caugt her and with her work done for now, Murphy latched on to her team leader’s wheel for the first climb of Edge Hill.
At the top of the climb the leading riders competed for the first of the Queen of the Mountains points, with Juniper, Ashton and Joscelin Lowden (Aprire Bicycles/HSS Hire) having to give way to Liv Cycling/Epic Coaching rider Lauren Dolan’s perfectly timed effort. This hill also had its predicted impact, with the bunch now spread out over many hundreds of meters and several minutes. With the race nearing the end of Lap 1 the riders started to consolidate in to a number of groups with less than twenty riders left at the head of the race.
Heading down the B4100 towards Warmington for the second time the pattern of the previous lap was repeated, Murphy attacked and this time was able to again a more substantial lead of a few hundred metres as she headed past the church and on to the descent to Gaydon. By the time she headed back up Edge Hill for a second time, race radio reported a lead of greater than 30 seconds.
On Edge Hill the chasing riders inevitably started eat into Murphy’s lead and, as they approached the summit, they were within 30 metres as she took the Queen of the Mountains points on the second lap. Dolan took second to consolidate lead in the category.
The end of the second and the start of the third and final lap followed the pattern of the first two with Murphy applying the pressure on the front backed up by Rutter, Aprire/HSS Hire laying chase and Juniper biding her time toward the rear of the group, while a second group led by Reddy were working hard to eliminate a fifteen second deficit to the lead group. On the final climb of Edge Hill Kimberly Ashton kicked things off and managed to get a gap to cross the Queen of the Mountains line first but Dolan’s second place added to the points gained on the first two laps gave her the points win.
With the majority of the climbing done and a steady downhill run to the final kick-up to the finish, Ashton was hauled back and the riders prepared for final drive to the line. As the riders came in to view from the finish line, Juniper already had what would prove to be a decisive lead of a few lengths over Georgina Panchard (Bianchi Dama) with Tamara Davenne (Team Vision Innovative Leisure) in third place.
After the race, NS spoke with Nikki Juniper. “The Women’s Team Series is never an easy race, especially this one with the climb, but I put a really strong team around me to look after me,” she told us. “I’m really proud of all of them. We knew everyone was going to watch us; I just wanted to race, I didn’t know how I was going to feel confidence-wise, I just said to the girls keep the pace high and a lot of teams were interested in that.”
Juniper then went on to pay tribute to other teams and riders. “HSS Hire were just amazing, and Lauren Dolan from Liv Epic, what a cracking little rider.”
Gallery below the results
1 Nicola Juniper (Ford EcoBoost)
2 Georgina Panchaud (Bianchi Dama)
3 Tamara Davenne (Team Vision Innovative Leisure)
Queen Of the Mountains: Lauren Dolan (Liv CC-Epic Coaching)
Text and photos © Simon F. Blackwell