It was a freezing cold start in Otley town centre this morning for the second women’s Tour de Yorkshire, a testing 135.5km road race which was run over an identical course as stage two of the men’s race held on the same day.
Luckily, the weather played ball compared to the snow and rain of the previous day - and the crowds that were packed into the high street were greeted with clear blue skies and cycling celebrities a plenty.
This race was record breaking, with the prize pot totalling an enormous £50,000- bigger than the men’s total prize fund with the winner taking £15,000. Current World Champion and local girl Lizzie Armitstead (racing for Great Britain) was joined by Britain’s most decorated Paralympian Dame Sarah Storey (Podium Ambition); Olympic champion Dani King (Wiggle High5); commonwealth medallist Emma Pooley (Great Britain) alongside several other huge names from the pro peloton. A whole host of British teams lined up including the BC development team Team Breeze, Boot out Breast Cancer, WNT, London based team Les Filles and also the team making a big impression on the circuit this season, Drops RT.
Starting in Armitstead’s home town the crowds lined the streets from 7am, hoping to catch a glance of their local girl. The build up to the day had been incredible, with the press focusing on the relationship between King and Armitstead, with King still hopeful of Rio selection. Having taken a week off the bike following her spring season, Armitstead had already played down her chances of taking the win.
Seeking some quiet before the race, Armistead was sat in the back of the GB team car. With minutes to go, checks to helmet and glasses were made along with putting on a few layers over the rainbow jersey. Final preparations done, she was ushered around the large crowd that had gathered and clearly had her head in the game. A true champion at work. When asked about the prize pot and what that meant to women’s racing, Armitstead stressed the importance of the length and difficulty of the race as well as the prize fund. “I think it’s more about a statement, having a full length race is very important as the organisers believe that the women are capable of doing that kind of stage, and to me that is more important than the prize money".
The peloton rolled out from Otley town centre in the fresh spring sunshine, a stark contrast to stage 1 of the men’s race yesterday. A quick loop around the town and then out into the Yorkshire countryside towards Doncaster. Even though there were only three categorised climbs in the race, the peloton were certainly going to be tested with the first two climbs on narrow roads (Cote de Harewood and Cote de East Rigton) appearing shortly after the depart.
Early on into the race Armitstead suffered a mechanical but was able to get back into the bunch quickly and moved her way through the pack to lead the chasing group, who were sat around 2 minutes behind the solo leader Doris Schweizer of Cyclance Pro Cycling. Schweizer was still alone 85km into the race, and with no real chase, the gaps widened to 2’35’’ to the chasing group.
Armitstead and Leah Kirchmann (Liv- Planteur) eventually caught Schwiezer after the third climb (Cote de Conisbrough Castle). At 15kms to go the gap to the main bunch was slowly closing in on the trio with Wiggle High5 dominating the chasing group.
The gap further narrowed to 45 seconds at 10km to go with Hitec Products taking command of the chase, and as the finish was getting closer so was the chasing pack. 35 seconds, then 25, and at 5km out the pack was 20" behind. The leading three were caught with 2km to go and a bunched pack rocketed towards the finish in Doncaster. Wide roads enabled a fast bunch sprint for the line with Kirsten Wild for Hitec Products taking the win by a bike length from Wiggle High5’s Lucy Garner.
Sadly, the live TV feed that had been so eagerly anticipated did not happen which was a great shame for a race that had received so much sponsor and public interest, and ultimately would have been very exciting to watch. It was a simple case of technology failure.
Twitter went into overdrive, a mixture of uproar and frustration and complete sympathy for the sponsors and riders. However, even with the lack of TV coverage, it was clear that there was passion and enthusiasm for women’s pro racing. The simple fact is that the public want women’s races televised. This in turn will only close the equality gap in pro racing and give the women a greater platform on which to perform.
Women’s Tour De Yorkshire 2016 Top Ten:
- Kirsten Wild (Ned) Hitec Products3hrs 22mins 26secs
- Lucy Garner (GB) Wiggle High5 same time
- Floortje Mackaij (Ned) Team Liv-Plantur
- Marta Bastianelli (Ita) Ale'Cippolin
- Alice Barnes (GB) Great Britain
- Anna Trevisi (Ita) Ale'Cippolin
- Jennifer George (GB) Drops Cycling Team
- Nicola Juniper (GB) Team Ford Ecoboost
- Nicole Moerig (Aus) Podium Ambition p/b Club La Santa
- Evie Richards (GB) Great Britain
Lizzie Armistead finished 26th just one spot behind Dani King. We eagerly await the next few months ahead of Rio for these two class racers.