Regular Neutral Service contributor Dave White made the long journey from his home in the North of England to West Wales to see the Women’s National Road Race Championships, and was glad he did – the race was thrilling and, according to all those who got there, one of the best Nationals in years. Here’s his report:
This year’s national road race championship was decided on a tough course in Monmouthshire making use of many of the climbs around Abergavenny, followed by 4 laps of a deceptively hard finish circuit in the town. A course which on paper beforehand looked to favour the pure road racers with Lizzie Armitstead being favourite to take the title for a 3rd time.
After an early start from Bristol (with Sarah Connolly – you couldn’t ask for a better person to talk racing with on the way over!) we arrived to find the teams setting up and riders signing on ready for the day ahead. There is always a special atmosphere at the Nationals with the domestic riders and international stars mixing, high expectations and tense nerves. If you have never been to these events before, you must make a point of getting there one day. It was great to have a chance to wish a few of the riders good luck, chat to our very own Matrix-Vulpine team and also Emma Pooley and Sharon Laws. The Wiggle-Honda team had all of their British riders there fully supported and a small crowd of fans surrounded them at every opportunity.
The race started from the main street in Abergavenny and it was wonderful to see a good crowd out early in the morning to cheer the riders off on their way. The organisers had also arranged a park, with stalls and stage and other activities to keep spectators occupied while the riders were out on the main loop. However, coffee called and progress of the race was monitored via mobile internet! All of the riders were expecting a hard race from the outset, but despite some early attacks it wasn’t until the climb out of Monmouth that the first real break developed with 15 or so riders going clear of the rest of the field. The subsequent climbs on the way back to Abergavenny caused another split in this group and a select group of 8 (Armitstead, Pooley, Laws, Archibald, Storey, Trott, King and Barker) led onto the smaller loops.
With 2 ½ laps to go Lizzie Armitstead made a terrific attack and quickly gained an advantage of 10 seconds on the group behind. Over the next lap or so this extended to 18 seconds and in the chasing group a few riders slowly dropped off the back leaving Pooley, Laws, Trott and King to chase. With the start of the last lap a possible disaster loomed as some riders being pulled out were caught by Lizzie on the sharp right corner at the end of the start finish straight. Thankfully her skill and the attentiveness of the riders avoided any major issue and at this point we all were thinking that it was a done deal. We were all wrong! Emma Pooley never gives up and she put in a hard chase slowly pulling the gap down to about 10 seconds at the start of the final climb. At this point Dani King exploded up the climb with an attack worthy of any road race specialist and bridged to Lizzie. I think Lizzie may have been as surprised as the crowd were and both riders sat up allowing the hard chasing Emma Pooley to close and with her Laura Trott, who had been unable to come through and help chase on the climb.
The scene was now set for a sprint finish, although this didn’t stop Emma trying hard to get a gap on the way back to the finish. With a few corners to go Dani King took the lead with Lizzie right behind her, followed by Emma, Laura and Sharon. The final corner was taken at a frightening speed by Dani and she opened up her sprint down the long straight. Lizzie was far from finished though and just nudged in front of her, but left a small gap against the railings which was all the invitation Laura Trott needed. Laura may not be known as a road racer and indeed has said she doesn’t like it, but give her a bit of space in a sprint and you are in trouble. In this case it turned out to be double trouble as Laura shot past Lizzie on one side and Dani clawed her way past on the other – a Wiggle 1-2!! Not what was expected but it made for some wonderful and emotional scenes afterwards, it’s rare to see a rider in such a state of shock and happiness!
In all we had an excellent race, with the result far from certain right until the last metres, but also with some real positives for riders all through the field. In past years the national title has had a few riders chasing the win and most others some distance back, but no longer. With Katie Archibald and Sarah Storey in 6th and 7th places domestic riders were less than 2 minutes behind, young Elinor Barker was rapidly closing down Sarah only 2 seconds behind at the line and further back Hannah Barnes, Nikki Juniper and Jessie Walker were battling for top ten places. This showed that our domestic racing scene is getting ever more competitive and the gap to the pro peloton is not as great as it has been. The future may just be looking bright for women’s racing in the UK!
1. Laura Trott Wiggle Honda
2. Dani King Wiggle Honda
3. Lizzie Armitstead Boels Dolmans
4. Emma Pooley VC Norwich pp Lotto Belisol!!
5. Sharon Laws United Healthcare
6. Katie Archibald Pearl Izumi Sports Tours International
7. Sarah Storey Pearl Izumi Sports Tours International
8. Elinor Barker Wiggle Honda
9. Hannah Barnes United Healthcare
10. Nikki Juniper Echelon-Rotor