Essex Giro

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Podium Ambition’s Grace Garner won Stage 1 and Stage 2, was second in Stage 3 and took first place overall

Neutral Service is firmly convinced that the Essex Giro is a race that deserves far more attention than it gets. Each year, if offers a great variety of racing suiting several different types of riders, keeping things interesting and making it very difficult to predict a winner. What’s more, it takes place near to several large population centres including London, which means that given the sort of exposure it should get it has the potential to attract plenty of fans as well as riders. In 2015, the race couldn’t go ahead, but this year it was back with several changes from the previous format – and looks like it has a chance of realising the huge potential it always had.

Last time it was held, the race started off on Saturday with a TT and crit at Redbridge followed by a 120km road race on a (excellent) circuit just south of the Essex/Cambridgeshire border (and NS hopes to see it return there one day); this time, the road race was switched to the circuit used by last year’s superb CC Sudbury women’s race, then headed to Redbridge for the TT and crit on the Sunday. As was the case in 2014 Nikki Juniper (Ford Ecoboost) started the race with the aim of defending her overall National Road Series leadership, with 126 points as she goes for a third consecutive title while her two nearest rivals, Eleanor Dickinson (67 points) and Alice Barnes (55 points) sat this one out as their Drops team prepared for the Aviva Women’s Tour.

That did not mean Juniper was going to have an easy time of it – Podium Ambition’s Grace Garner, a rider who has been absolutely on fire in the weeks leading up to this race with several good rides and some impressive victories (and got the better of Juniper in Stage 1 at the Tour of the Reservoir) along with several other very good riders were looking to make up points. She was, one imagines, happy about this: Juniper is categorically not the kind of rider to play it safe near the back of the peloton when she doesn’t need to win, she likes to win and she races hard every time. That’s why she was right up there at the front for much of Stage 1, battling all day long.

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SunSport Velo took a turn on the front, leading up the hill in Stage 3

The circuit has numerous hills which Garner’s team mates Beth Hayward and Gabriella Shaw found much to their liking, but Ford Ecoboost were all over anything that looked like an attack and closed every attempt down. It wasn’t until during the final lap that an attack stuck, courtesy of another Podium Ambition rider, EJay Harris, who really gave Juniper’s team something to think about when she managed to get more than 20″ out in front – nothing too worrying had it have happened earlier in the day but a palpable threat so close to the end, which left Ford with no choice but to go after her, with much assistance from the other teams. That, it turned out, had been Podium Ambition’s plan all along: Ford caught Harris and brought her back, but it had cost them valuable energy and although they put their own well-laid out plans into action going into the sprint, when Hayward and Shaw led Garner towards the line nobody could match her winning sprint. Juniper was second, with her team mate Charline Joiner third.

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Alice Cobb didn’t win Stage 3, but she was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the race

A race taking place at the Redbridge circuit on Saturday had to be cancelled due to heavy rain and flooding on the lower part of the parcours – fortunately it had drained by Sunday morning in time for the Stage 2 individual time trial, but with the circuit notorious for punctures at the best of times and especially so after rain causes bits of flint and thorns to wash onto the track from the loose soil of Hog Hill, it was clear that not everyone was going to complete their three laps without problems. Nevertheless, on the purpose-builtand traffic-free track, riders were able to rely on their skills to get them round safely far more than they would on the road, where there’s always the possibility of a treacherously slippery patch of oil and water right around the next corner – hence Garner was going full guns again and, much to the surprise of anyone who had her down as a pure sprinter (she may specialise in sprinting; but really, she’s an excellent all-rounder), she beat Juniper by eight seconds and increased her total advantage to 18″.

Starting the afternoon’s crit with an 18″ cushion, Garner’s overall victory looked as good as secure, but once again Juniper and her team weren’t just going to sit back and let her walk away with it. However, following a few laps in which Sunsport Velo, Starley Racing and others took their turn and impressed with some fine riding the front of the pack, it turned out that if either Ford Ecoboost and Podium Ambition wanted to win this one, they were going to have to deal with a very small big problem first: Matrix p/b Corley Cycling’s Alice Cobb who, as a climbing and TT specialist, had found the hills of Stage 1 apparently rather easy and come seventh, then made the dreaded Hoggenberg in Stage 2 look easy (she was smiling when she reached the top for the third time) when she finished fifth – and was now knocking seven shades out of everyone, not only on the climb but all around the rest of the circuit too.

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Nikki Juniper isn’t the sort of rider to sit back in the peloton when she doesn’t need to win – and no wonder, when she clearly enjoys winning so much

By the final five laps, most of the watching fans were certain Cobb was going to win, but on the final climb Garner took the lead and when she, Juniper and Garner were still together at the end of the final lap it all came down to sheer sprinting power. This time, having whipped around to retake the lead, Juniper could not be beaten – it wasn’t enough to prevent Garner winning overall but Ford Ecoboost’s team work, and Nikki’s victory in both primes as well as her sprint, had reduced the winning margin to just three seconds.

Cobb was third, also netting herself third overall; afterwards, Juniper, who is considered by many to be the top female cyclist on the British circuit today, congratulated her on an excellent race – if you want to watch a rider’s progression from very talented to the top of her game, keep your eye on the 21-year-old.

Gallery below the results

Stage 1 Road Race
1. Grace Garner (Podium Ambition p/b Club La Santa; Elite) 15pts
2. Nikki Juniper (Ford Ecoboost; Elite) 12pts
3. Charline Joiner (Ford Ecoboost; Cat. 1) 10pts
4. Gabriella Shaw (Podium Ambition p/b Club La Santa; Elite) 8pts
5. Jennifer Holden (Fusion RT Fierlan; Cat. 2) 6pts
6. Alice Sharpe (SunSport Velo; Cat. 2) 5pts
7. Alice Cobb (Matrix p/b Corley Cycles; Cat. 2) 4pts
8. Clemence Copie (Les Filles; Cat. 1) 3pts
9. Bethany Hayward (Podium Ambition p/b Club La Santa; Cat. 2) 2pts
10. Julie Erskine (Ford Ecoboost; Cat. 1) 1pt

Stage 2 Individual Time Trial
1. Grace Garner (Podium Ambition p/b Club La Santa; Elite) 8’59” 15pts
2. Nikki Juniper (Ford Ecoboost; Elite) 9’07” 12pts
3. EJay Harris (Podium Ambition p/b Club La Santa; Cat. 1) 9’09” 10pts
4. Kelly Murphy (Boot Out Breast Cancer CC; Cat. 2) 9’10” 8pts
5. Alice Cobb (Matrix p/b Corley Cycles; Cat. 2) 9’15” 6pts
6. Gabriella Shaw (Podium Ambition p/b Club La Santa; Elite) 9’21” 5pts
7. Bethany Hayward (Podium Ambition p/b Club La Santa; Cat. 2) 9’24” 4pts
8. Elizabeth Stedman (Fusion RT Fierlan; Cat. 2) 9’35” 3pts
9. Alice Sharpe (SunSport Velo; Cat. 2) 9’36” 2pts
10. Charline Joiner (Ford Ecoboost; Cat. 1) 9’37” 1pt

Stage 3 Crit
1. Nicola Juniper (Ford Ecoboost; Elite) 15pts
2. Grace Garner (Podium Ambition p/b Club La Santa; Elite) 12pts
3. Alice Cobb (Matrix p/b Corley Cycles; Cat. 2) 10pts
4. Kelly Murphy (Boot Out Breast Cancer CC; Cat. 2) 8pts
5. Jennifer Holden (Fusion RT Fierlan; Cat. 2) 6pts
6. Charlotte Alston (Team 22; Cat. 2) 5pts
7. Julie Erskine (Ford Ecoboost; Cat. 1) 4pts
8. Alice Sharpe (SunSport Velo; Cat. 2) 3pts
9. Bethany Taylor (Boot Out Breast Cancer CC; Cat. 2) 2pts
10. Nicole Oh (Les Filles; Cat. 2) 1pt

Overall
1. Grace Garner (Podium Ambition p/b Club La Santa; Elite) 60pts
2. Nikki Juniper (Ford Ecoboost; Elite) 52pts
3. Alice Cobb (Matrix p/b Corley Cycles; Cat. 2) 45pts
4. Kelly Murphy (Boot Out Breast Cancer CC; Cat. 2) 40pts
5. Charline Joiner (Ford Ecoboost; Cat. 1) 35pts
6. Alice Sharpe (SunSport Velo; Cat. 2) 31pts
7. Charlotte Alston (Team 22; Cat. 2) 27pts
8. Charlotte Broughton (Ford Ecoboost; Cat. 2) 23pts
9. Clem Copie (Les Filles; Cat. 1) 20pts
10. Chanel Mason (Army Cycling RT; Cat. 1) 17pts
11. Julie Erskine (Ford Ecoboost; Cat. 1) 15pts
12. Charmaine Porter (Army Cycling RT; Cat. 2) 13pts
13. Helen Ralston (Twickenham CC; Cat. 2) 11pts
14. Aoife Doherty (5th Floor CC; Cat. 2) 9pts
15. Alicia Speake (CC London; Cat. 2) 7pts
16. Mel Brand (Ford Ecoboost; Cat. 2) 6pts
17. Lauren Murphy (Liv CC-Epic Coaching; Cat. 2) 5pts
18. Jennifer Holden (Fusion RT-Fierlan; Cat. 2) 3pts
19. Kate Baker (Performance Cycles; Cat. 2) 2pts
20. Nicole Oh (Les Filles; Cat. 2) 1pt
21. Gabriella Shaw (Podium Ambition p/b Club La Santa; Elite), 22. EJay Harris (Podium Ambition p/b Club La Santa; Cat. 1), 23. Bethany Hayward (Podium Ambition p/b Club La Santa; Cat. 2), 24. Maddi Scott (SunSport Velo; Cat. 2), 25. Gabriella Nordin (Starley Racing; Cat. 2), 26. Sian Botteley (Starley Racing; Cat. 2), 27. Elizabeth Stedman (Fusion RT-Fierlan; Cat. 2), 28. Fiona Hunter Johnston (Fusion RT-Fierlan; Cat. 2), 29. Michelle Lee (Team Milton Keynes; Cat. 3), 30. Jennifer Hudson (Fusion RT-Fierlan; Cat. 2), 31. Amy Gornall (Podium Ambition p/b Club La Santa; Cat. 2), 32. Megan Chard (PMR@Toachim House; Cat. 2), 33. Rebecca Johnson (Fast Test RT; Cat. 2), 34. Louise Surridge (Ford Ecoboost; Cat. 2), 35. Olivia Campbell (Dulwich Paragon; Cat. 2), 36. Clover Murray (Ford Ecoboost; Cat. 2), 37. Monica Dew (Boot Out Breast Cancer CC; Cat. 2), 38. Chloe Weller (Army Cycling RT; Cat. 2), 39. Bethany Taylor (Boot Out Breast Cancer CC; Cat. 2), 40. Susan Freeburn (PMR@Toachim House; Cat. 2), 41. Isla Rush (Matrix Fitness p/b Corley Cycles; Cat. 3), 42. Sarah Bradford (Jadan-Weldtite; Cat. 2), 43. Victoria Strila (PMR@Toachim House; Cat. 2), 44. Petra Dolejsova (5th Floor CC; Cat. 2), 45. Stephanie Mottram (Cat. 2), 46. Hilde Oudman (Starley Racing; Cat. 3)

Top Ten Standings
after Round 5
1 Nikki Juniper (Ford Ecoboost) 197pts
2 Grace Garner (Podium Ambition) 119pts
3 Alice Cobb (Matrix p/b Corley Cycles) 97pts
4 Jennifer Holden (Fusion RT-Fierlan) 75pts
5 Eleanor Dickinson (Drops) 67pts
6 Charline Joiner (Ford Ecoboost) 57pts
7 Maddi Campbell (Footon-Velosport) 55pts
=7 Alice Barnes (Drops) 55pts
9 Chalotte Alston (Team 22) 54pts
=9 Laura Massey (Drops) 54pts

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