The weekend was spectacular for Britain’s female cyclists racing abroad with Lizzie Armistead winning the highly prestigious Trofeo Binda round of the World Cup for her Boels-Dolmans team while Molly Weaver and Christina Siggaard of Matrix Pro Cycling both broke into the top 20 at Gent-Wevelgem.
Armitstead won the World Cup last year following a superb season in which she proved herself equal to Vos, Johansson and the rest of the best riders in the world, but victory in Lombardy was far from guaranteed for the Otley-born rider – the Trofeo parcours is, famously, among the most balanced in cycling and tends to select the best rider on the day rather than favouring climbers or sprinters, and she faced stiff competition from the cream of the crop of the tough young riders who have come through in the last few years, as well as more experienced riders such as Annemiek Van Vleuten, Carmen Small and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio.
Four of those younger riders – Pauline Ferrand-Prevot and Anna Van Der Breggen of Rabo-Liv, Wiggle-Honda’s Elisa Longo-Borghini and Team Switzerland’s Jolanda Neff along with Alena Amialiusik of Velocio-SRAM, who at 26 is the same age as Armitstead, split off from the main bunch in the last of five laps after the repeated climbs had taken their toll. With two rivals from the same team in such a small group, Lizzie needed to time her move carefully and did so to perfection, refusing to take the bait when Ferrand-Prevot attacked hard on the final climb and proving that a cool brain is as important in cycling as strong legs by waiting until the last 300m before opening the sprint that took her to victory. All of the members of the group recorded the same time of 3h08’13” with the exception of Neff, who was 3″ behind. The next rider to cross the line, Van Vleuten, did so 1’31” after Lizzie.
Sharon Laws (Bigla) was the only other British rider to finish, taking 59th place at +6’46. Chloe Fraser and Amy Hill, both with Rytger, did not finish.
Having come seventh at the Boels Rental Ronde van Drenthe on the 14th of March, Armitstead now leads the World Cup standings with 160 points to Jolien D’hoore’s 120 – but with eight rounds still to go, the competition remains wide open.
Molly Weaver was best-performing Brit at Gent-Wevelgem, taking 15th place 1’40” behind Liv-Plantur’s Floortje Mackaij who won with a time of 3h15’12” – an excellent result for the 21-year-old who is racing her first season at professional level after joining the Matrix squad, which itself turned professional only this year. Her Danish team mate Christina Siggard was 20th, finishing at +6’14”.
In true Flemish Classic style, the riders faced atrocious conditions with heavy rain and a brutal headwind for much of the parcours – in the men’s race, Welshman Geraint Thomas was actually blown off his bike at one point.
Siggaard and her team-mates had been planning to put on a bit of show, demonstrating that although they’re a new. small team they can still mix it with the bigger squads, but in the end it was the wind that called the shots. “After only 5km everything was splitting up in the crosswind and before we hit Ieper (start town) again after less than 20km the damage was down and the race was split up into pieces,” she said in her excellent race report on the Matrix website.
“Two top 20’s is pretty cool on a day where our plan didn’t work out at all – on what we wouldn’t call a perfect day,” she continued.
Lucy Garner (Liv-Plantur) was 34th and finished in the same group as Siggaard, receiving the same time. Scotland’s Eileen Roe, another rider in her first full professional season after moving to Wiggle-Honda from Starley-Primal late last year, was 52nd at +7’44”; her two British team mates Anna Christian and Amy Roberts dd not finish.