Squally showers, gusty winds and the sad news that British rider Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) had been forced to quit the race due to illness met the teams as they turned up in the Essex coastal town of Harwich to compete in the final stage of what has been a bigger and better inaugural FriendsLife Women’s Tour than even the most optimistic of fans could ever have dreamed. Perhaps due to the more open surroundings of the start, the crowds did not look quite so large as those at the more enclosed start lines in Oundle and elsewhere; however, a brief headcount through a zoom lens from the team area up by the seawall suggested this was not the case – organisers, who surely knew Lizzie’s participation was in doubt, kept the news quiet right up until the race began; if this was done to prevent people deciding to stay away now that the rider who had started the race as Britain’s favourite for victory was out, they didn’t really need to have bothered – the cheers and warm welcome given to every team and every rider during each day’s team presentation proved that a large percentage of those who came to the stage starts were not casual onlookers or generic sports fans, but real followers of women’s cycling with a good knowledge of the sport and athletes.
The first intermediate sprint was at Mistley, 13.8km along the route just before it turned north to cross the River Stour and head into Suffolk. Race leader Marianne Vos (Rabo-Liv), looking for points that would give her bonus seconds and a little insurance towards a General Classification victory should things go wrong later on, was first through with Orica-AIS’ Emma Johansson (after points that would better enable her to challenge Vos for that victory) was second and Lauren Hall (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) was third.
If anyone was there just to see the Brits, Emma Pooley (Lotto-Belisol) gave them plenty to be excited about. She started the stage in 60th place overall with a disadvantage of 16’03”, far too large for anything other than a miracle – or disaster, for the riders above her – to come even close to challenging for a top ten finish, but Pooley has class and wasn’t going to spend the last day sitting things out in the peloton: the London-born, Cambridge-educated 31-year-old who recently completed her PhD launched a blistering attack early on in the race. She was joined by Lisa Brennauer (Specialized-Lululemon), Lauren Hall (Optum p/b Kelly benefit Strategies) and Loes Gunnewijk (Orica-AIS). Hall and Gunnewijk trailed Vos by 41″ and 45″ respectively, big disadvantages but no so big that they could potentially move into the lead were the break to prove successful; with no Rabo-Liv riders getting into the break, Vos’ team reacted instantly and made sure the quartet didn’t get too far away, then brought it back – but not before Brennauer won the second intermediate sprint at 58.6km in Long Melford (where more crowds gathered, from well before the sprint to well past the feed zone that came right after it), with Gunnewijk and Hall behind her.
Rabo came to the Women’s Tour with a squad that a rival team manager described to Neutral Service as so strong it was “almost obscene,” but Pooley doesn’t scare easily – she was not cowed and continued to attack, putting herself in pole position for the first Queen of the Mountains climb at 63.7km and, being one of the best climbers in cycling today, she was fastest to the top and collected six points; Gunnewijk, Hall, Brennauer were second, third and fourth then Sharon Laws (United Healthcare) and Jolanda Neff took the remaining points. Pooley didn’t stop attacking after the climb either, but each and every time Rabo closed it down – although she couldn’t win the GC and had virtually no hope of winning the stage she did pick up her reward, winning what was probably the most deserved Combativity prize of the entire race. The second QOM, 14.1km ahead at Hitcham, went to Gunnewijk with Hall, Brennauer, Neff, Laws and Roxane Knetemann (Rabo) following.
The crowds of spectators that turned up to welcome the riders at every stage town in this race have completely disproved the misconception (or, perhaps, the lie) that women’s cycling cannot attract fans and will never be a major sport – even in the torrential rain of Bedford, thousands upon thousands of cheering fans gathered along the Embankment to show the riders how much they appreciated their efforts. Bury St. Edmunds, though, was something else together. A stage of the men’s Tour of Britain started in the picturesque marketplace by the ruined abbey two years ago, and with Bradley Wiggins having won the Tour de France weeks before the crowd was enormous; a stage of the Women’s Tour finished there and the crowd was comparable if not even bigger – so many people packed in around the finish line that it looked like a rock concert (Martin Barras, DS of Orica-AIS, said the race was “the closest I’ve ever came to being with a great touring band”) and more filled the paths along the roads leading to the finishing straight and for a good decent out onto the parcours. For anyone who knows the difficulties that have faced the sport in the past, it seems obvious now that women’s cycling has turned a corner and if any company now claims its reluctance to sponsor the sport is due to a lack of interest among the public, we can justifiably be suspicious about the real reasons. We saw the future of women’s cycling at the FLG Women’s Tour and it’s going to be massive – make an investment now and the returns will be vast.
Vos had started the stage with reasonable advantages over her four most dangerous rivals: 19″ over Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS), 22″ over Rossella Ratto (Estado de Mexico-Faren) and 31″ over Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle-Honda) – not insurmountable, but plenty enough that she could have played it safe in the pack, having an easier time than in the two preceding stages and secure in the knowledge that overall victory would remain hers even if she finished several seconds down. However, like Pooley she’s much classier than that and rides with true élan; she has also always used her celebrity as the best cyclist in the world to help improve the sport she loves and knows that when a race leader fights hard to win the final stage the press take notice and give the race more coverage. Nevetheless, the two Italians and the Swede are classy riders too, as are Amy Pieters (Netherlands National Team), Hannah Barnes (United Healthcare) and all the other women who despite knowing that the odds for a General Classification victory were stacked in Vos’ favour, made sure she had to work for the stage win. Bronzini took second place and Pieters was third.
Vos, who also won Stages 3 and 4 and who had performed so well in intermediate sprints throughout the race, also won the Points classification with 80 to second-placed Johansson’s 48 and third -placed Bronzini’s 44. Sharon Laws won the polka dot Strava Queen of the Mountains jersey in the first stage and kept it for the rest of the race (her United Healthcare soigneurs had decorated the bidons with polka dot stickers at the feed zone to celebrate her achievement), winning the classification with 44 points to Neff’s 41; Ratto was third with 12 points. Ratto was the the best Young rider with a total time of 12h12’42; Susanna Zorzi (Astana-BePink), who supported her in the long break that led to victory in Stage 2, was second at +9″ and Amy Pieters was third at +15″. Lucy Garner of the Great Britain National Team was fourth with the same time as Pieters, and finished top ten in the first four stages including fourth in Stage 4 – a remarkable achievement for a rider only 19 years old. Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies were the top team, with a combined time of 38h09’07”; Specialized-Lululemon were second and Orica-AIS were third, both at +04″.
Stage 5 Top Ten
1 Marianne Vos (1; Rabo-Liv) 2h48’10”
2 Giorgia Bronzini (154, Wiggle-Honda) ST
3 Amy Pieters (91; Netherlands NT) ST
4 Hannah Barnes (141; United Healthcare) ST
5 Emma Johansson (111; Orica-AIS) ST
6 Elena Cecchini (36; Estado de Mexico-Faren) ST
7 Chloe Hosking (55; Hitec Products) ST
8 Aude Biannic (61; Lointek) ST
9 Elise Delzenne (125; Specialized-Lululemon) ST
10 Leah Kirchmann (103; Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) ST
General Classification Top Ten
1 Marianne Vos (1; Rabo-Liv) 12h42’07”
2 Emma Johansson (111; Orica-AIS) +30″
3 Rossella Ratto (34; Estado de Mexico-Faren) +35″
4 Giorgia Bronzini (154; Wiggle-Honda) +38″
5 Susanna Zorzi (14; Astana-BePink) +44″
6 Amy Pieters (91; Netherlands NT) +50″
7 Lucy Garner (41; GB NT) ST
8 Hannah Barnes (141; United Healthcare) ST
9 Lauren Hall (101; Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) +52″
British General Classification
7 Lucy Garner (41; GB NT) +50″
8 Hannah Barnes (141; United Healthcare) ST
26 Dani King (152; Wiggle-Honda) +58″
33 Sharon Laws (144; United Healthcare) +1’07”
41 Katie Archibald (45; GB NT) +1’32”
45 Helen Wyman (81; Matrix-Vulpine) +2’23”
51 Ciara Horne (43; GB NT) +13’01”
54 Jessie Walker (84; Matrix-Vulpine) +13’48”
55 Laura Trott (151; Wiggle-Honda) +13’59”
59 Emma Pooley (71; Lotto-Belisol) +17’14”
60 Emma Trott (25; Boels-Dolmans) +17’37”
67 Lucy Martin (32; Estado de Mexico-Faren) +30’45”
68 Amy Hill (46; GB NT) +41’48”
72 Jo Tindley (85; Matrix-Vulpine) +57’11”
73 Penny Rowson (86; Matrix-Vulpine) +1h9’09”
74 Mel Lowther (82; Matrix-Vulpine) +1h9’40”
75 Harriet Owen (83; Matrix-Vulpine) +1h30’04”
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Except “Officer Tiffany Cromwell,” which is © Dave White. Do not reuse without permission.