The final stage of the Aviva Women’s Tour, and also the toughest, was won with a beaming smile from British rider Hannah Barnes.
Driving ahead in the Skoda Press Car we saw multiple signs beside the road for “Smiley Barnes” but at that point we had no idea the United Healthcare rider was going to take such a high profile victory.
The 22-year-old sprinted for the line whilst wearing the Best British Rider jersey, and also being top of the Best Young Rider stakes (understandably she did not wear both jerseys all day).
Fourth place was enough for Lisa Brennauer (Velocio SRAM) to hold onto the Aviva Jersey, a well and truly deserved win as she’s demonstrated consistently strong riding all week.
The 64 mile race from picturesque Marlow to the bustling centre of Hemel Hempstead covered a number of long, steep climbs, and with four long days already behind them it was a hard slog for the peloton.
The stage began with 4 top riders, Brennauer, Christine Majerus (Boels Dolmans), Julian D’Hoore (Wiggle Honda) and Emma Johansson (Orica AIS) separated by only 11 seconds.
Attacks early in the stage were all controlled by a nervous peloton, not keen to let anyone break free. Narrow roads through rural towns and some long, technical descents meant a breakaway would have an advantage.
After the first Strava Queen of the Mountains Climb, a long ascent of Cryers Hill that was lined with spectators, a group of 25 leaders managed to break clear of the 60 odd riders behind.
A 45 second gap opened up between the groups as they travelled through Chesham, 38 miles in, and this increasd to 70 seconds but eventually the groups were brought together.
Making the most of the tired legs from the rear group’s attack and front group’s attempt to stay away, Claudia Lichtenberg (Team Liv Plantur) made her move and attacked. Soon she had a 40 second lead.
The gap stretrched to 1 minute 30 seconds, even as Lichtenberg rounded the top of Tom’s Hill – the second Strava Queen of the Mountain Climb which was awash with supporters and snaked around a hairpin, making it resemble a traditional hill climb with plenty of roars from the crowd.
Eventually Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Wiggle Honda) made a successful attempt to break free and ride with Lichtenberg. The two maintained a lead of 22 seconds with 15k to go, which dropped to 15 seconds at 10k, but increased to 23 seconds with 5k, then to 17 seconds at 3k. Needless to say, it was finger-bitingly close.
In the end, the break was (of course) caught, and the result came down to a sprint. Barnes came in first, much to the absolute delight of the 22-year-old’s parents who were watching at the finish line.
In second was Julian D’Hoore (Wiggle-Honda) and third was Simona Frapporti (Ale Cipollini).
It was a tough stage with all of the hills and tough attacks
Lisa Brennauer maintained her overall lead, and said afterwards: “It is hard to find the right words, it feels really good and I have to thank my teammates a lot, it was not easy out there today. It was a tough stage with all of the hills and tough attacks. It was a great victory for me but also for the whole team.”
This tour is one of the biggest on the cycling calendar so [winning] it means a lot
She added: “With the stage races I have done so far this is a really really big victory for me. This tour is one of the biggest on the cycling calendar so it means a lot. Being able to take the yellow jersey away from here is a really great victory.”
The result meant D’Hoore was second on GC and Christine Majerus was third. Barnes maintained her Best British Rider jersey and Best Young Rider Jersey.
Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle Honda) won the Combativity Award overall and Malissa Hoskins (Orica AIS) the Strava Queen of the Mountains whilst Brennauer took the Chain Reaction Points Jersey with her overall Aviva Yellow.
Boels Dolmans managed to swipe the team win, a triumphant moment on the podium following Lizzie Armitstead’s unfortunate stage one crash.
It’s been an exhilarating race – we’ve got gallery’s, race reports and more from every stage here.