It was cold and wet and it rained cats and dogs (or ropes, as the French riders would have it) all day long. Knowing as we do – because we’ve been told so many times – that so few people are really interested in women’s cycling, the weather obviously meant few people venturing out to see the race.
Actually – no.
Hinckley proved that anyone who truly believes nobody is interested in women’s cycling doesn’t have a clue what they’re talking about – the weather may have been a complete contrast to the warm sunshine of Oundle yesterday, but the crowds were much the same. Seemingly every school for miles around had turned out and the kids were having the time of their lives – one of them, aged about ten and standing next to me by the startline, turned to his friend and said, “I can’t believe this is actually happening in Hinckley!” Bike races are a great, cheap day out for all the family, folks, and kids love them.
The first sprint came after 32.4km at Lutterworth and Astana-BePink’s Silvia Valsecchi did well to hold off Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) and Marianne Vos. The first QOM, at 45km, brought a chance for the Great Britain National Team to take centre stage – Ciara Horne beat the classification leader Sharon Laws (United Healthcare), Jolanda Neff (Switzerland NT), world number one-ranked Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS) and Lisa Brannauer (Specialized-Lululemon) and took the six points.
The second Queen of the Mountains lay some 20km ahead just past Brixworth, and it was there that the race began to take shape: Rossella Ratto (Estado de Mexico-Faren) attacked in search of QOM points, then decided that since she felt good at the top she might as well keep going and see how far she got. Then, just as she began feeling that it was time to let the peloton sweep her up and return to the less-strenuous life of a rider in the pack, her fellow Italian and friend Susanna Zorzi (Astana-BePink) bridged across and joined her. Working together, they were able to lengthen the advantage Ratto had built and at 101km passed through the second intermediate sprint with a healthy lead: Ratto took three points, Zorzi took two and Armitstead, sometime later, took one.
The flat 400m stretch leading to the finish line promised a bunch sprint battle, but it couldn’t happen unless the Italian duo were caught – and surely they would be, even though the gap was two minutes with 20km to go, now that Armitstead, Vos, Johansson and the other big guns were hammering the peloton’s accelerator to make sure they were.
A successful break always delights the fans, especially when it’s only just successful. This one was perfect – as Ratto and Zorzi rounded the tricky left-hand corner leading into the finishing straight, the pack was almost upon them and they had to fight hard through every one of the last 400m; they were a mere six seconds ahead of Vos as the crossed the line. Amy Pieters, riding for the Netherlands National Team, was fourth and Lucy Garner (GB NT) was best British rider in fifth place. Ratto takes the yellow jersey from Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS) to become the second Women’s Tour leader in history with a total time of 5h30’18”; Zorzi is second at +5”. Vos moves one second ahead of Johansson, taking third place at +06”. Vos leads the Points competition with 24 to Ratto’s 18 and Johansson’s 17; Sharon Laws retains the Queen of the Mountains with 19 points, ahead of Jolanda Neff (Switzerland NT) on 17 and Ratto on 12.
With such slippery conditions, there was always a high risk of crashes and Matrix-Vulpine’s Harriet Owen suffered her second in as many days; once again she was able to continue and finished second from last, 13’21” behind the winner but, crucially, before the cut-off time that would have ended her race – Neutral Service spoke to Harriet and Jo Tindley after the race and both riders said they’d enjoyed themselves today. With team mate Mel Lowther taking 35th (and equaling Vos’ time), it’s clear that the only 100% British trade team in the race are not just here to enjoy the scenery.
Carol Ann Canuel (Specialized-Lululemon) and Amy Cure (Lotto-Belisol) did not finish.
More photos below
Stage 2 Top Ten
1 Rossella Ratto (34; Estado de Mexico-Faren) 3h02’02”
2 Susanna Zorzi (14; Astana-BePink) ST
3 Marianne Vos (1; Rabo-Liv) +06″
4 Amy Pieters (91; Netherlands NT) ST
5 Lucy Garner (41; Great Britain NT) ST
6 Giorgia Bronzini (154; Wiggle-Honda) ST
7 Lizzie Armitstead (21; Boels-Dolmans) ST
8 Aurore Verhoeven (66; Lointek) ST
9 Aude Biannic (61; Lointek) ST
10 Chloe Hosking (Hitec Products) ST
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