Marianne Vos won Stage 3 and took control of the General Classification yesterday; today she was looking to close down the race and when early rain cleared up just before the team vehicles arrived the scene was set for another fast stage.
The crowds at the start of Stage 4, just as at every other stage, were vastly bigger than anything seen at a women’s race in this country before. Cheshunt is of course home to Olympic Champion Laura Trott, who rides for the Wiggle-Honda team, and her older sister Emma (Boels-Dolmans) who announced after the race that she intends to retire from racing after Stage 5, so large numbers of spectators had been expected; however, the loud cheers for all the other teams and riders – from Rabo-Liv and Vos to Lointek and the less-well-known riders, proved that a large percentage of the crowd were devoted women’s cycling fans rather than casual spectators out to catch a glimpse of their local heroes, and they stood ten-deep behind the barriers for several hundred metres after the start line.
A crash in the neutral zone temporarily halted the race and left the peloton in a nervous mood, but competition was high again by the time the riders reached the first Queen of the Mountains climb just 11.3km into the race at Port Hill in Bedford – a climb which reaches a considerable gradient over a short stretch. Ciara Horne of the Great Britain National Team was the first to the top and took the six points; she was followed by QOM classification leader Sharon Laws (United Healthcare), Jolanda Neff (Switzerland National Team), Valentina Scandolara (Orica-AIS), Elisa Longo Borghini (Hitec Products) and Boels-Dolmans’ Lizzie Armitstead.
Emma Pooley (Lotto-Belisol) attacked at around 31km, possibly in the hope that the pack might still be reluctant to take risks following the earlier crash, but most of the other teams including the top squads had riders on her immediately – Pooley may have started the stage with a disadvantage of 13’38”, but a rider of her calibre wasn’t going to be allowed to just ride away so near to the end of the race; she led the break for most of its existence and deservedly won the Combativity award. With any threat it may have posed now safely contained the break was allowed a fairly long rein, at one point leading the second group by 50″.
The first intermediate sprint, taking place before another huge crowd at Baldock some 58km into the race, went to Annemiek van Vleuten from Rabo-Liv; Gracie Elvin (Orica-AIS) was second and Melon Pawlowska (Boels-Dolmans) third.
Although the gap had shrunk dramatically going into the final fifth of the race, with riders from Boels-Dolmans, Rabo-Liv and Orica-AIS all involved it could easily have fractured into smaller groups, which might then have made a successful attempt to get further away; as it was, a traffic accident on the parcours ahead of the leading police and National Escort Group motorbikes forced officials to neutralise the race for a short time – down to 30″ before the neutralisation, it could not last once the race got back underway.
With 15km to go the stage was destined for another big bunch sprint finish, and when Vos was fastest through with Johansson and Armitstead right on her back wheel and the final QOM at 83.8km – 4km from the finish; Neff won and was followed by Laws, Longo Borghini, Johansson, Vos and Bronzini – it seemed a very safe bet that the stage was going to end with a Vos, Johansson, Armitstead and Bronzini head-to-head sprint duel. Armitstead’s chances were ruined when she punctured shortly after the summit; she had a replacement bike mere moments later and was off on her way rapidly, but such is the high standard of racing in this event and so high are the speeds that even those few seconds were enough to put her out of contention for a stage victory. From the finish line, it looked briefly as though Bronzini might get the better of Vos, as indeed she has done in the past; however, Vos was younger then and has learned the split-second timing which combines with her incredible power to make her the formidable rider that she is. She rarely if ever makes mistakes these days and times her explosive sprints to perfection; another 10m and it could have been the Bronzini’s, but there’s probably no-one alive who could have got past Vos before the line.
Lucy Garner (Great Britain NT) was the best British rider, finishing in third place right behind Vos and Bronzini. She is seventh in the General Classification with a disadvantage of 37″. Lizzie Armitstead managed 10th place despite her puncture and is fourth overall at +30″. Hannah Barnes (United Healthcare) was 12th; she’s just behind Garner in the GC and has the same overall time. Wiggle-Honda’s Laura Trott, in pain from yesterday’s injuries, was 29th and is 53rd overall at +12’48”. Sharon Laws was 41st and is 34th overall, her disadvantage being 54″. Katie Archibald (GB NT) was 49th and is 42nd in the GC, her disadvantage is 1’19”. Eight-time British Cyclo Cross Champion Helen Wyman (Matrix-Vulpine) was 55th; she’s just ahead of Trott in 52nd place overall with the same time. Lucy Martin from Estado de Mexico-Faren finished 8″ behind Wyman in 56th; she’s 59th in the GC at +14’24”. Emma Trott was 58th and is 62nd in the GC at +16’26”, Emma Pooley finished with her for 59th and is 60th overall with a disadvantage of 16’03”. Matrix-Vulpine’s Jo Tindley and Jessie Walker finished together in 63rd and 64th; Jo is 76th overall at +40’50”, Jessie is 56th at +13’05” – a brilliant performance by a rider from the only UK Domestic team in a UCI 2.1 event. Hayley Jones (GB NT) was with them for 65th and is 73rd overall at +37’34”. Amy Hill (GB NT) was 73rd and is 75th overall, her time stands at 39’34”. Harriet Owen (Matrix-Vulpine), who enjoys massive popularity among the fans, was 76th; she’s the 81st and last rider in the GC at +1h13’43”. Penny Rowson and Mel Lowther, also with Matrix, were 78th and 80th; they’re 79th (+52’48”) and 80th (+53’19”) respectively.
Results and more photos below
1 Marianne Vos (1; Rabo-Liv) 2h13’09”
2 Giorgia Bronzini (154; Wiggle-Honda) ST
3 Lucy Garner (41; Great Britain NT) ST
4 Emma Johansson (111; Orica-AIS) ST
5 Elena Cecchini (36; Estado de Mexico-Faren) ST
6 Lauren Hall (101; Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) ST
7 Leah Kirchmann (103; Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) ST
8 Aude Biannic (61; Lointek) ST
9 Trixi Worrack (126; Specialized-Lululemon) ST
10 Lizzie Armitstead (21; Boels-Dolmans) ST
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