Stage 3’s “flat” parcours could perhaps be more correctly described as rolling, since neither Suffolk nor Essex are particularly flat; nevertheless, the highest point of the stage was a mere 47m above sea level, making it appear ideally suited to the Dutch riders. It also seemed to make a bunch sprint the most likely end to the race, while the strong south-easterly winds at Felixstowe virtually guaranteed it, and with the majority of the parcours heading south-east to end at Clacton a slow race looked to be on the cards. The bunch sprint did happen, but with all the top contenders driving the peloton at high speed to prevent the numerous early attempted breakaways it turned out to be a much, much faster race than anyone predicted. The team masseurs will be working late tonight, too – when the likes of Marianne Vos, Lizzie Armitstead, Giorgia Bronzini and Emma Johansson turn up the pace in a stiff headwind, there’ll be a lot of very sore legs after the race.
Once again, the race got underway before a massive crowd – not quite as large as Hinckley, perhaps, and certainly smaller than Oundle, but still enormous considering that women’s cycling is supposedly a tiny niche sport – and the sun made a welcome return after the torrential rain of Stage 2. The first attack came from no less a rider than Armitstead, with strong support from her Boels-Dolmans team, which was evidently of sufficient concern to her rivals to create the paranoia that characterised the remainder of the stage. That twitchiness was probably also a contributory factor in the bad early crash that saw Lauren Tamayo (United Healthcare) leave the race in an ambulance, and doomed the very large group of riders stuck behind it to spend the rest of the day trying, and ultimately failing, to regain contact with that superstrong peloton
Armitstead’s early attack might not have gained her any advantage, but she was in the right place to take the top three points at the first intermediate sprint 19km from the start. Right behind, and still making sure she wasn’t getting away anywhere, were Vos (Rabo-Liv) and Johansson (Orica-AIS), who took two and one point respectively. More attacks flared into life and, almost as suddenly, fizzled out in the kilometres that followed as the the bunch made sure nobody pulled a trick like the one played by Susanna Zorzi and Rossella Ratto yesterday; with the speed picking up each and every time, the trailing groups’ disadvantage simply kept on growing.
Sharon Laws (United Healthcare), who has worn the polka dot jersey throughout this race, was fastest up the first Queen of the Mountains hill(ock) at 31.9km and took the six points, hotly pursued by Ellan van Dijk (Boels-Dolmans), Jolanda Neff (Switzerland NT), Johansson, Charlotte Becker (Wiggle-Honda) and Armitstead. The second QOM, just up the road at 36.5km, was won by Neff ahead of Laws, Becker, Alice Arzuffi and Zorzi (both Astana-BePink) and Lisa Brannauer of Specialized-Lululemon.
With a little over 32km to go to the final intermediate sprint at 68.9km and so many riders who might have pulled off breaks safely back down the road where they couldn’t get up to mischief, things settled down for a while in the lead group. However, as it neared Thorpe-le-Soken, where the sprint waited, Armitstead, Johansson and Vos began attacking one another furiously. Vos might not have been in her usual form at the Fleche Wallonne two weeks ago, but in the two weeks since she’s improved far more than any mere mortal could – her two rivals were simply unable to respond to her power and she took the three points. Armitstead was second, Johansson third.
One final attempt at organising a break saw three riders gain a small and briefly-lived advantage soon after the sprint, but it never really stood a chance of achieving anything – the peloton was just too fast. A few riders dropped off the back as the finish approached, leaving 48 women were still together as they hit the final stretch leading to the finish – but by now only four of them really mattered: Armitstead, Johansson, Vos and the lightning-fast sprint specialist Giorgia Bronzini from the British-registered Wiggle-Honda who had joined them in the final few kilometres. Once again, Vos could not be stopped; her three rivals were firing on all cylinders, but Vos has a much bigger engine.
Following bonification, Vos took control of the General Classification with an advantage of 8″ – and if she rides the next two stages like she rode today, it’ll be very hard to shift her from the top. Johansson is now second; Ratto and Zorzi, one and two yesterday, are third and fourth at +09″ and +14″. Armitstead is the leading British rider, her disadvantage of 18″ placing her fifth overall.
Sharon Laws continues to lead the Queen of the Mountains competition with 30 points to Jolanda Neff’s 27; Ratto is third with 12. In the Points competition, Vos remains leader after picking up 20 points in today’s stage for a total of 44; Johansson is second with 31 and Armitstead third with 24. Ratto remains the leading Young rider, and Orica-AIS remain the leading team.
Lizzie Armitstead was the fastest British rider on the stage and is also leading British rider overall. Lucy Garner, from the Great Britain National Team, was the second fastest British rider and took eighth place recording the same time as Vos. She is fourth fastest Brit overall, trailing 4″ behind Hannah Barnes of United Healthcare. The next best-performing British riders on the stage were Katie Archibald (GB NT) and Dani King (Wiggle-Honda) in 23rd and 24th place; Archibald is 32nd overall and King is 28th. Jessie Walker, of Matrix-Vulpine, had another good day and finished 38th, she’s 52nd in the General Classification; Laws and her United Healthcare team mate Hannah Barnes were 40th and 41st. Walker’s team leader Helen Wyman was 43rd over the line and is now 48th overall. Lucy Martin (Estado de Mexico-Faren) led a group that came in 12’03” after Vos; she was 58th and is 65th overall. Also in Martin’s group were Ciara Horne (GB NT), 65th to finish and 62nd overall; Emma Pooley (Lotto-Belisol), 67th today and 66th overall; Laura Trott (Wiggle-Honda), 69th for the stage and 59th overall and Amy Hill (GB NT), 72nd to finish and 73rd overall. Emily Kay (GB NT), Mel Lowther (Matrix-Vulpine), Jo Tindley (Matrix-Vulpine), Hayley Jones (GB NT), Penny Rowson (Matrix-Vulpine) and Harriet Owen (Matrix-Vulpine) all finished at +24’51” in 77th, 80th, 81st, 82nd, 83rd and 85th (last finisher) – fortunately, the time cut-off was extended from 15% to 20% of the winner’s time due to the tough weather conditions (and, no doubt, because of the number of British riders that would have been out of the race), allowing all six to continue tomorrow.
Regular Neutral Service contributor Dave White watched the finish from the VIP area, where he met Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Sajid Javid. “Some people think women’s cycling doesn’t matter – this blows that out of the water, doesn’t it?” Dave asked him. “Oh yes – and this race needs to happen every year from now on,” Javid replied.
Photos to come
Stage 3 Top Ten
1 Marianne Vos (1; Rabo-Liv) 2h11’05”
2 Emma Johansson (111; Orica-AIS) ST
3 Giorgia Bronzini (154; Wiggle-Honda) ST
4 Lizzie Armitstead (21; Boels-Dolmans) ST
5 Elena Cecchini (36; Estado de Mexico-Faren) ST
6 Leah Kirchmann (103; Optum p/b Kelly) ST
7 Amy Pieters (91; Netherlands NT) ST
8 Lucy Garner (41; Great Britain NT) ST
9 Ellen van Dijk (22; Boels-Dolmans) ST
10 Chloe Hosking (55; Hitec Products) ST
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.