Lisa Brennauer sprinted to the line in the penultimate stage of the Women’s Tour, taking the win and putting herself back into the GC lead ahead of Stage Five.
The stage was characterised by quintessentially British roads – rolling undulation, technical lanes, power climbs, and unfortunately some chip and seal that hadn’t yet sealed.
Narrow roads leading into small towns with parked cars made negotiation even harder and the racing was tough and technical, leading to a few spills, but only one race abandon from Madeleine Ortmuller of Germany.
The peloton stayed as one for around two thirds of the 64 mile route, attempted breakaways being quickly chased down and caught.
It was the Chain Reaction Cyclist Sprint that forced a gap, with around 12 riders losing contact with the leaders between the finish of the sprint, at 45.1 miles, and the start of the Strava Queen of the Moutains climb, at 46.2 miles.
The half mile stretch cut a path through rural fields, making the colourful fans who had come out to watch light up the road, even as rain began to fall.
By the summit of the climb, a smaller group of 35 riders formed the front peloton, whilst the rest of the 87 starters were forced to chase.
At this point, Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle Honda) and Sabrina Stultiens (Liv Planur) saw a chance and grabbed it, leaping ahead of the pack. The rain was becoming heavier, and this, coupled with technical, narrow roads, made them a force to be reckoned with.
With 15km to go, the pair had a 55 second lead, and by 5k they still had 22 seconds, which was reduced to 13 seconds in the final 3k.
The lead into Stevenage town centre was no easy feat – traffic islands, slippery wet roads and three 90 degree bends in the final 1km made for a nail biting chase.
However, the peloton was too strong – and it was Brennauer who threw her hands in the air at the finish, closely followed by Emma Johansson of Orica AIS.
The result puts Brennauer in the Yellow Jersey. Ahead of the final stage tomorrow the leaders are separated by only eleven seconds, with Christine Majerus in second, Julian D’Hoore third, and Emma Johansson just behind.
Hannah Barnes (United Healthcare), yesterday’s local star took Best British Rider, and Best Young Rider, whilst Brennauer also picked up the blue and white sprint jersey.
Malissa Hoskins (Orica AIS) was in the polka dots of the Strava Queen of the Mountains once again, joking that she’d become attached to the design, but her primary goal remains as working for GC contender Johansson.
Tomorrow’s stage five is the hilliest of them all, and is less likely to end in a bunch sprint as per stages one to four. It’s going to be close!